The Biblical Illustrator
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--
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul … came to Ephesus.
--Ephesus was the third capital and starting point of Christianity At Jerusalem Christianity was born in the cradle of Judaism; Antioch had been the starting point of the Church of the Gentiles; Ephesus was to witness its full development, and the final amalgamation of its unconsolidated elements in the work of John, the apostle of love. It lay one mile from the sea in the fair Asian meadow where myriads of swans and other waterfowl disported amid the windings of the Cayster. Its haven, once among the most sheltered and commodious in the Mediterranean, was thronged with vessels from every part of the civilised world. It lay at the meeting point of two great roads and commanded easy access to the whole interior continent. Its population was multifarious and immense. Its markets, glittering with the produce of the world’s art, were the Vanity Fair of Asia, and furnished the imagery of Revelation 18:12-13. And Ephesus was no less famous than it was vast and wealthy. No name is more splendidly emblazoned in the annals of human culture than that of the great capital of Ionia. Here Anacreon sang the light songs which so thoroughly suited the soft temperament of the Greek colonists in that luxurious air; here Thales gave the first impulse to philosophy; here the deepest of all Greek thinkers, “Heracleitus the Dark,” meditated on those truths which he uttered in language of such incomparable force, and here Parrhasius and Apelles studied their immortal art. And although its splendour was increased by its being the residence of a Roman Proconsul it was still essentially Greek, with a civilisation more deeply imbued with Oriental than Western influences, fostering superstitions which owed their maintenance to the self-interest of various priestly bodies, and utterly debased the moral character of the people. Just as the mediaeval sanctuaries attracted all the scum and villainy, all the cheats and debtors and murderers of the country round, and inevitably pauperised and degraded the entire vicinity--just as the squalor of the lower purlieus of Westminster to this day is accounted for by its direct affiliation to the crime and wretchedness which sheltered itself under the shadow of the Abbey--so the vicinity of the great temple at Ephesus reeked with the congregated pollutions of Asia. So inveterate was the vice of the place that one of its philosophers declared that the whole Ephesian population deserved to be throttled man by man. Such was the city which was, with the exception of Rome, by far the most important scene of Paul’s toils, and which he regarded as “a great door and effectual” though there were “many adversaries.” (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Paul at Ephesus
He brought the light of the gospel to bear on every degree of darkness. On--
1. The twilight of John the Baptist’s dispensation.
2. The “blindness in part which happened unto Israel.”
3. The gloomy midnight of superstition and idolatry. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
Paul at Ephesus
Or the contact of Christianity with idolatry, as sustained by superstition, by national pride, and by the love of gain. Note--
I. The difficulties encountered from the peculiar form of idolatry.
1. The two obstacles which the apostles everywhere encountered were, of course, Judaism and Paganism. But, while Judaism was fixed and unchanging, the heathen systems were variable; and the form of their opposition to Christianity varied with the character of the prevalent idolatry or philosophy, and with the intelligence or barbarism of the people. In one place heathenism was connected with gross profligacy and superstition; in another with intellectual refinement, with all that was beautiful in art and profound in learning; in others with national pride, with secular callings, with the power of the state. All these were to be overcome before Christianity could secure its ascendency.
2. In all countries religion is the most powerful principle that controls the human mind. In its very nature it is supreme as a principle in governing men. There is power in attachment to one’s country, to friends, to property, to liberty, to life; but the power of religion, as such, is superior to all these, for men are willing to sacrifice them all in honour of their religion. In addition to this, there is a power derived from the incorporation of religion with customs, opinions, and lucrative pursuits; laws, vested rights, caste, and civil and sacred offices. Both these sources of power existed here in forms most difficult to overcome.
(a) The practice of magic (verse 19).
(b) National pride. The temple of Diana yeas the chief glory of the city; and, around that, all that there was of patriotism and pride would be concentrated.
(c) The wealth of the city furnished employment to a considerable portion of its inhabitants (verse 24).
II. The preparation which had been made for the introduction of the gospel. Unlike most ether places, Ephesus was prepared for the gospel, and in a way which bore a striking resemblance to that which was made for Christ by the forerunner. The doctrines of John had been brought to Ephesus, and had been enforced by the eloquence of Apollos, with the result that a little band of disciples were apparently waiting for the coining of the Messiah. Their knowledge was very defective; yet it illustrates their sincerity, their desire to serve God, and their purpose to welcome the truth from whatever quarter it might come, that when these twelve disciples were told by Paul what was the real purport of the doctrines of John (verse 4), they welcomed the announcement, and “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5). On them as on the apostles at Pentecost “the Holy Ghost” now “came, and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (verse 6).
III. The manner of Paul’s labours at Ephesus. For this we are indebted to Acts 20:18-21.
1. Paul had a tender heart; a heart made for, and warmed with love. He wept much, for he saw the condition of lost men--their guilt, their danger, their insensibility, their folly (Romans 9:2-3).
2. He kept back nothing that was “profitable” to them--none of the things which would promote their salvation.
3. He did this “publicly.” In the synagogue, in the open air--wherever men were accustomed to be assembled, and “from house to house.” He went from family to family.
4. That on which he relied, as the means of men’s conversion, was not human learning; nor did he preach good works as the ground of salvation, but repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. The results which followed. A Church was established among the most interesting of all the New Testament churches--one to which the Saviour subsequently said, “I know thy works,” etc. (Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:8). From the address, the narrative, and the Epistle we learn that--
1. was not a small Church. This may be inferred from the number of its elders who met Paul at Miletus, and from the fact stated by Demetrius, that Paul had “turned away much people” (Acts 20:26-27).
2. It was Presbyterian in its form. Those who met Paul at Miletus were elders or presbyters. There is no mention of “a bishop” in connection with the place, except that the elders are termed “overseers” or bishops.
3. Its religion was eminently one of principle, and not a thing of mere feeling, nor the result of temporary excitement. It led to such voluntary sacrifices as to show that it must have been founded on principle (Acts 20:19-20).
4. Its doctrinal belief, if we may judge by the Epistle, was most advanced. They were evidently capable of appreciating the deep things of God.
V. The opposition which was aroused.
1. It was based on--
2. Christianity promotes the welfare of the world, and in so doing it condemns wrong sources of gain. Commotions may ensue, but society is a gainer in the end. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Paul at Ephesus
1. Some persons are ever on the watch for points of difference. How unlike St. Paul who, when he taught, ever started from some point of agreement; and when he would correct, always began with something which he could commend. Observe his course here. Is there anyone who agrees with him entirely? Yes, there is his new friend Aquila. Who next? Are there any other disciples? Yes, there are twelve men who know something of the way of the Lord; to them he will first address himself, treat with them on common ground, and lead them on into the higher doctrine of Christian baptism and of the Holy Spirit. A man who would do God’s work must first see how far God has done it to his hand. If there is one who is only defective, he must not be treated as if he were outside the pale; he must be taken up where he is and carried onward. Next, there are those who, though not Christian believers, have yet a true faith so far as God Himself is concerned. To their synagogue, therefore, in the third place, St. Paul wends his way, and argues with them out of their own Scriptures that Jesus is Christ. Rejected by the Jews, however, he transfers his instructions to the school of one Tyrannus.
2. I stop to consider two expressions.
3. A singular scene now opens. Every great city has its peculiarities. Ephesus was a city with one dominant superstition, the worship of the goddess Diana; and with a host of smaller superstitions growing out of it. In particular, it was the headquarters of magical art. Here, then, was a new field for the operations of the gospel. When Moses was confronted with the magicians of Egypt, he first beat them on their own ground, and then led the way where they could not even pretend to follow. It was somewhat thus with the sorcerers of Ephesus. As scrolls and rhymes were thought powerful against calamity, so it pleased God to work in this one place “works of power, not the ordinary, by the hands of Paul”; marvels of supernatural healing, wrought, without word or even presence, by means of handkerchiefs or aprons brought from his body; just as the hem of our Lord’s garment was on one occasion the medium of conveying a medicinal virtue to a suffering woman. It was natural that imposture should try its hand at a work so remarkable. Evidently the name of the Lord Jesus was St. Paul’s one charm. St. Paul never left it in doubt whence his power came. Thus some of the vagabond Jewish exorcists tried the effect of this all-powerful Name. It is playing with edged tools to preach a gospel--still more, to try practical experiments with a gospel--which we ourselves do not believe. It was so with these Jews. The rumour of their defeat spread through Ephesus, carrying with it the assurance that this was no new superstition added to the already crowded wonder market, but a superhuman power fatal to counterfeit and impossible to resist. And persons who practised the unlawful arts now came forward, under the impression of this terrible event, confessing their deeds and making a public renunciation.
4. So mightily grew the Word of the Lord and prevailed. It was not a mere skulking, creeping progress; it was, for once, a mighty--the word expresses almost a forcible and victorious--growth of the Word: a great battle had been fought, between the power of truth and the power of error, and the saying had been verified once again to the very senses of men, “Great is truth, and shall prevail!” (Dean Vaughan.)
Paul at Ephesus
I. A teacher will be certain to meet with persons astonishingly ignorant. It is well to set out with this expectation, and so to be prepared for such discoveries.
II. When a teacher meets with such persons he should regard them not with irritation but compassion. Some ignorance, of course, is wicked, but much, as was the case with these disciples, is involuntary. In any case it is a proper subject for pity.
III. Such persons under proper instruction may evince a capacity for receiving the highest gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let us not despair in the case of the pitiably ignorant, but hopefully instruct them. Beneath the thick crust may lie a gem capable of receiving the finest polish.
IV. There are certain unbelievers whom a wise teacher will leave to themselves (Acts 20:9). Time spent in arguing with those who will not believe is worse than wasted: you will only confirm them in their self-conceit or harden them in their wickedness.
V. A teacher who, amid opposition, continues to faithfully bear witness for the truth will not be left without witness from God (Acts 20:11-12). (R. A. Bertram.)
Paul at Ephesus
We have here four classes of hearers, and we see that the effects produced on each were determined by their disposition.
I. The partially instructed disciples of John. These eagerly welcomed the light and were rewarded by a special benediction. Their conduct is worthy of all imitation. It is said that theology is a finished science, and that no progress in it is now possible. But this is to confound the source of theology with what men have drawn from it. We cannot look for additions to the sacred volume, but surely we ought to look for an increase in our understanding of its meaning. Theology is just like the other sciences. The stars have been in the sky from the day when they were first viewed by Adam; but what progress has been made since then in astronomy! The rocks beneath us have been just as they are now for millenniums, yet what advancement have these last years seen in geology! And in the same way, though the Bible is complete, God has always “more light to break forth from His Holy Word.” There is sometimes an interpretation given by the very character of an age, and the simultaneousness with which in many lands the doctrines of the Reformation flashed upon the minds of independent inquirers--analogous to the scientific discoveries made in different countries at the same time--may help us to understand how new truths in theology may yet be found in the wellsearched field of Scripture.
II. The Jews. Here we see the blinding influence of prejudice in the hearing of the truth. In John’s disciples we see that “To him that hath shall be given,” in the Jews that “From him that hath not shall be taken even that he hath.” They who stubbornly refuse the salvation of Christ are in danger of being put beyond the possibility of being saved.
III. The vagabond exorcists. In them we see how men may turn a little knowledge of the gospel to account as a worldly speculation. Their case is paralleled by the indulgence mongers of the Middle Ages upon whom the people rose as this poor possessed one did on the seven sons of Sceva. But it is equally bad when people attend upon ordinances because it will add to their position in society, or improve their business connection. Avaunt, therefore, all who would make a gain of godliness! The devil himself is ashamed of you. The evils of our times will not recede before Sceva mammon worshippers, but only before the Pauls whose hands are clean and whose hearts are pure.
IV. The magicians. Here we have an illustration of earnest, sincere, and believing hearing. Their repentance was not of that cheap sort that spends itself only in tears. It was like that of the woman who, when she heard a sermon on false measures, went straight home and burnt the bushel. Have you nothing to burn? (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Paul’s mission Divinely directed
As Philip was sent to the desert of Gaza with the water of life to the thirsting Ethiop, Paul was sent on the same errand to those twelve men and their companions who punted for the living water in the desert place of a huge idolatrous city. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and how to find them out. He will never leave them nor forsake them. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Apollos completed by Paul
1. Something had occurred since Paul was last at Ephesus. Apollos had been exercising his ministry, and some twelve men had answered the persuasion of his matchless eloquence; but Paul found them out, and noticed that something was absent. He said, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” If you had a new life would have lifted you up to higher levels of thought and feeling and utterance; what is wanting here is the Holy Ghost. Looking upon us today, what would Paul inquire? If he saw us world bound, if he saw our truant minds running out of the Church for the purpose of collecting accounts and alleviating temporal anxieties--if he saw our prayers like birds with bruised wings that could not fly, he would say, “What is wanting here is the Holy Ghost--Spirit of fire, of light, of love!” There is no mistaking His presence, for there is none like it. “The fruit of the Spirit is … joy.”
2. The twelve men who followed Apollos were like their eloquent leader. Apollos knew only the baptism of John, and what he knew he preached. If you come to me knowing only the first four rules of arithmetic, I must not begin your education by throwing into contempt the only four rules you do know; my object must be to lead you on until you feel that these rules are only for infants. Paul did not attempt to undervalue the work of Apollos--he carried it on to holy consummation. One minister must complete the work which another minister began. The instructive teacher must not undervalue the eloquent evangelist. They belong to one another. We must put out no little light, but be thankful for its flicker and spark. The yoking man likes to hear a fluent speaker. He goes to the church where Apollos preaches long before the doors are opened, and willingly stands there that he may hear this mighty wind of sacred appeal. But Time--teaching, drilling, chastening Time--has its work upon the mind, and we come to a mental condition which says, “There was more in that one sentence of Paul’s than in that Niagara whose bewildering forces once stupefied our youthful minds.” But do not condemn any man. Let him teach what he can.
3. If Paul did not discredit the work of Apollos, the disciples of Apollos did not discredit the larger revelation of Paul. The inference is, that the disciples of Apollos were well taught. They were not finalists; they felt that something more might be possible. That is the highest result of education. Christians are always “looking forward and hastening unto.” When did Christ say, “This is the end”? We know what He did say. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” “Thou shalt see greater things than these.” “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” This enables me to look hopefully upon some persons who do not know the full extent of Christ’s name. Such men are not to be won by denunciation, but by recognition.
4. There were only twelve of these men; and yet there is no whining about a “poor” Church and a “weak” Church. We must burn such adjectives out of the speech of Christians. A Church is not necessarily strong because its pews are thronged and its collections are heavy. It may be that the handful of copper given by some village Church may be more than the two handsful of gold given by the metropolitan congregation.
5. The gospel in Ephesus produced its usual two-fold effect. Some received the Holy Ghost and advanced, while others “were hardened and believed not.” It must always be so. The gospel is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. Every sermon makes us worse or better.
6. In verse 11 we have an expression which is out of place in the cold speech of today’s Christianity. We are afraid of the word “miracles”; we have almost to apologise for its use. But the writer of the Acts not only speaks of miracles, but of “special miracles.” Until the Church becomes bold enough to use its native tongue it will live by sufferance, and at last it will crawl into a dishonoured grave--the only tomb which it has deserved. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The best method of evangelising a city
When Paul enters Ephesus he does not stand up at once to harangue indiscriminate multitudes on the great subjects of the gospel; but goes philosophically to work. He thoughtfully surveys the situation, inquires into its condition, endeavours to ascertain whether there are any persons in any degree prepared to accept his doctrines.
I. He begins with those who are most acquainted with his doctrines. He found certain disciples who had made some progress in Christian knowledge, and endeavoured to live up to the point of their intelligence. To establish in the faith “twelve” such men would prove more conducive to the advancement of truth than to elicit the thunderous cheers of a crowded and promiscuous auditory.
1. He promptly convicts them of the deficiency of their Christianity. He does this by two questions--
2. He effectively ministers to their advancement in Divine knowledge (verse 4). By this he teaches them that John’s ministry was--
John told his vast audiences to believe on Him that would come after him, that is, Christ Jesus. Now this teaching of the apostle was effective (verse 5). Baptism was an expression of that higher stage of experience to which Paul’s ministry had raised them.
3. He conveys the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (verse 6). The gift of tongues was not a gift of new languages, but the gift of speaking spiritual truths with supernatural fervour and force. The Spirit did not make them linguists, but spiritual orators. New ideas will make an old language new. This gift of speech enabled them to prophesy--i.e., teach. “He that prephesieth speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort.”
II. He proceeds to those who were next to the “twelve” in their acquaintance with his doctrines. His ministry with the Jews was--
1. Argumentative. “Disputing.” He gave reasons to sustain his propositions, and answered objections. He spoke to men’s judgment.
2. Persuasive. He plied them with motives rightly to excite their affections and determine their will. It was--
3. Indefatigable. He was “daily” at the work, instant in season and out of season.
III. He ultimately goes forth into the wide world of general society--into the school of Tyrannus. The result was--
1. A wide diffusion of the gospel (verse 10). Ephesus was the metropolis, and into it the population of the provinces were constantly flowing for purposes both of commerce and of worship.
2. The ejection of evil spirits (verse 12). His supernatural ministry was--
The Word and the world
I. The baptism of John’s disciples.
1. The baptism of John means his doctrine, which is briefly symbolised by the ritual act, and was contained within a very narrow range. “Repent.” “Fruits worthy of repentance”--fruits was the burden of John’s message. A preparatory one evidently; one needing something additional to complete it, as St. Paul told these converts. And none felt this more distinctly than John. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The work of John was simply the work of the axe; to cut up by the roots ancient falsehoods; to tear away all that was unreal. A great work, but still not the greatest. And herein lay the difference between the two baptisms. The one was simply the washing away of a false and evil past; the other was the gift of the power to lead a pure, true life. This was all that these men knew; yet they are reckoned as disciples. Let us learn from that a judgment of charity. Let not the religious man sneer at “merely moral men.” Morality is not religion, but it is the best soil on which religion grows. Nay, it is the want of this preparation which so often makes religion a sickly plant in the soul. Men begin with abundance of spiritual knowledge, and understand well the “scheme of salvation.” But if the foundation has not been laid deep in a perception of the eternal difference between right and wrong, the superstructure will be but flimsy. It is a matter of no small importance that the baptism of John should precede the baptism of Christ. The baptism of repentance before the baptism of the Spirit.
2. The result which followed this baptism was the gifts of tongues and prophecy--the power, i.e., not to speak various languages, but to speak spiritual truths with heavenly fervour. Touch the soul with love, and then you touch the lips with hallowed fire, and make even the stammering tongue speak the words of living eloquence.
II. The burning of the “Ephesian letters.” Ephesus was the metropolis of Asia. Its most remarkable feature was the temple of Diana, which contained a certain image, reported to have fallen from the skies--perhaps one of those meteoric stones which are reckoned by the vulgar to be thunderbolts from heaven. Upon the base of the statue were certain mysterious sentences, and these, copied upon amulets, were known as the “Ephesian letters.” Besides this there was a Jewish practice of the occult art--certain incantations, herbs, and magical formulas, said to have been taught by Solomon, for the expulsion of diseases and the exorcism of evil spirits. There is always an irrepressible desire for communion with the unseen world. And where an over-refined civilisation has choked up the natural and healthy outlets of this feeling, it will inevitably find an unnatural one. Ephesus was exactly the place where Jewish charlatans and the vendors of “Ephesian letters” could reap a rich harvest from the credulity of sceptical voluptuaries.
2. The essence of magic consists in the belief that by some external act--not making a man wiser or better--communication can be ensured with the spiritual world. It matters not whether this be attempted by Ephesian letters or by Church ordinances or priestly powers. The spirit world of God has its unalterable laws. “Blessed are the pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, the meek, the poor in spirit.” “If any man will do His will, be shall know.” “If a man love Me he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” There is no way of becoming a partaker of “the powers of the world to come,” except by having the heart right with God. No magic can reverse these laws. The contest was brought to an issue by the signal failure of the magicians to work a miracle, and the possessors of curious books burnt them.
3. You will observe in all this--
(a) It was a costly sacrifice.
(b) It was the sacrifice of livelihood. And a magician of forty was not young enough to begin the world again with a new profession.
(c) It was the destruction of much knowledge that was really valuable. As in the pursuit of alchemy real chemical secrets were discovered, so it cannot be doubted that these curious manuscripts contained many valuable natural facts.
(d) It was an outrage to feeling. Costly manuscripts, many of them probably heirlooms associated with a vast variety of passages in life, were to be committed mercilessly to the flames.
(e) Remember, too, how many other ways there were of disposing of them. Might they not be sold, and the proceeds “given to the poor”? or be made over to some relative who would not feel anything wrong in them. Or might they not be retained as curious records of the past? And then Conscience arose with her stern, clear voice. They are the records of an ignorant and guilty past. There must be no false tenderness. To the flames with them, and the smoke will rise up to heaven a sweet savour before God.
4. Whoever has made such a sacrifice will remember the strange medley of feeling accompanying it. Partly fear constrained the act, produced by the judgment on the other exorcists, and partly remorse; partly there was a lingering regret as leaf after leaf perished in the flames, and partly a feeling of relief; partly shame, and partly a wild tumult of joy, at the burst of new hope, and the prospect of a nobler life.
6. There is no Christian life that has not in it sacrifice, and that alone is the sacrifice which is made in the spirit of the conflagration of the “Ephesian letters.” If the repentant slaveholder sells his slaves to the neighbouring planter, or if the trader in opium or in spirits quits his nefarious commerce, but first secures its value; or if the possessor of a library becomes convinced that certain volumes are immoral, and yet cannot sacrifice the costly edition without an equivalent, what shall we say of these men’s sincerity?
III. The sedition respecting Diana’s worship. Notice--
1. The speech of Demetrius; in which observe--
2. The judicious speech of the chamberlain, in which observe--
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
Receiving the Holy Ghost
I. The question itself.
1. Have we received anything? We have said that we believe in Christ. But to test the truth of our profession, God asks, “Have you received?” Believing is always accompanied by receiving. If, then, any of us have not received, it is because we have not believed. And if we have received but little, it is because we have believed but little. For the promise is, “Be it unto thee according to thy faith.”
2. But our text asks specifically have we received the Holy Ghost? In reply to the previous question, some of us may have replied “We received ‘peace and joy in believing.’” But passing by these individual benefits that flow from believing, or rather including them and all such like, our question goes to the root of the matter. Receiving the Holy Ghost is the infallible evidence of “believing” in Jesus. This was the great gift which Jesus died to purchase, and which before His departure He promised to send, and which is set before us in the symbol of baptism--“Be baptized … and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
II. The leaning grounds on which we may safely give an answer to this question. Note--
1. The nature of the Holy Spirit’s work. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” but there are three respects in which the work of the Spirit is alike in the experience of all true believers.
2. The manner of the Holy Spirit’s work. It is--
3. A warfare in some more violent than in others, but experienced more or less by all; “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” etc.
4. A work and warfare to be crowned with victory. (W. Grant.)
On the reception of the Holy Ghost
I. To make this subject practical, we will endeavour to show what the deception of the Holy Spirit imparts; or in other words, what it is to receive His influence in order to salvation. In the early ages of Christianity it included the miraculous as well as the converting and sanctifying influences of this Divine agent. Those essential influences which are connected with the kingdom of God within us, though less splendid to the eye of sense, are even more precious to the eye of faith, and produce fruits in the soul, without which the most exalted gifts would avail nothing, but leave us as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. The Spirit of God must be received as the Spirit of truth to teach us. By the ministry of the Word the Divine Spirit enters the mind, sheds light upon the understanding and the conscience, and the man who was as one born blind, now sees. As a Spirit of adoption and of holiness the Comforter comes. The slave is changed into a child, the proud is now become humble, the prodigal is made to feel his danger, and to think of his Father and his home.
II. To enable you to answer the question in the text, I will state a few of the evidences or effects of the reception.
1. Prayer is one of these. It is the cry of the hungry for food, of the sick for health, of the condemned for pardon, that amounts to prayer in the true meaning of the term. It is a mark of the Spirit, when we pray from the heart.
2. Another fruit of the Spirit is the hatred of whatever is known to be sinful in the sight of God. As long as any remains of the old man are found within, so long will the conflict continue.
3. Another fruit and evidence of having received the Spirit is Christian love. A sincere Christian cannot but love those who show the holy, humble, and forgiving temper of Jesus. Hatred, variance, strife, contention, and all evil passions had so long filled the world, that men gazed with wonder on the benignant influence of the gospel in calming the troubled spirit.
4. One other mark decisive and vital of having received the Spirit is the faith that worketh by love. No man whose eyes are opened to discern his danger and the utter insufficiency of his works to save his soul, but renounces at once and for ever all dependence on the righteousness of his outward life, let it be what it may. And this leads him at the same time to place his entire dependence on the Saviour. (J. E. Everitt.)
Receiving the Holy Ghost
I. What is implied in receiving the Holy Ghost and whether we may and must receive Him.
1. By the “Holy Ghost” is meant the “Spirit of God”; that is, of the Father, as proceeding from Him, although sometimes also styled the “Spirit of Christ,” or, “of the Son”; Christ and His Father being one, and the Spirit of the Father being also the Spirit of the Son, in a way to us unsearchable.
2. This being observed, it will easily appear that to receive the Spirit of God is to receive His Divine influence, imparting those graces or gifts which are necessary to our salvation. Now, the manner in which this is done is, in many respects, incomprehensible (John 3:8). We must, therefore, receive the Holy Spirit as our lungs receive the air, and we breathe and live.
3. But are we authorised to expect any such thing? Certainly we are (Joel 2:28-29; Isaiah 59:21; Matthew 3:11; John 7:37-38; John 14:16-17; Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38-39).
II. In what sense we are to receive Him and for what purposes. The context shows that the apostle spoke partly in reference to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (Acts 19:6). These were given of old to confirm the law, to establish the gospel. They do not seem to be necessary where the Christian religion is already received and are not infallible signs of grace (Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 13:1). But we may and must receive the Spirit in His ordinary graces; to renew our fallen nature (Titus 3:5); to enable us to bring forth holy dispositions, words, and actions (Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:22-23). To be more particular. We must receive Him--
1. As a Spirit of truth; to enlighten our minds, and save us from ignorance, error, folly, and delusion (John 14:17).
2. As a Spirit of life (Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:45; John 14:19; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5-6).
3. As a Spirit of grace (John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5-6).
4. As a Spirit of adoption (Galatians 4:4; Romans 8:15-16).
5. As a Spirit of power; encouraging and strengthening us (Ephesians 3:16), which is necessary--
6. As a Comforter (John 14:16).
7. As a Spirit of holiness or sanctification (1. Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
III. In what sense, and how far, a man may believe, and yet not have received the Holy Ghost and how little such a faith will avail him. Without having received the Spirit in the forementioned respects, we may believe--The Being and attributes of God (Hebrews 11:6), inferring them by reasoning from the works of creation (Romans 1:20). The truth of the Scripture, and the excellency of its doctrines and precepts; and the promises and threatenings. But without the Holy Spirit our faith cannot be a saving faith (Romans 8:9).
IV. Apply the question and give directions both to those that have and to those that have not received Him.
1. To those that have not received the Spirit, I would say, Reflect seriously and continually on the necessity and excellency of this gift--pray much for it (Luke 11:5-13). Shun whatever is contrary to the mind of the Spirit, or would prevent your receiving Him. He works by “the word of truth”; therefore, hear, read, meditate upon, and exercise faith therein. Through His aid deny yourself, and “mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). Come to Jesus and exercise faith in Him for this blessing (John 7:37-38; John 4:10; Galatians 3:13-14).
2. Let me exhort those who have received this Spirit to guard not only against doing despite to Him, or quenching His influences, but against grieving Him, lest He withdraw from you. To use carefully all those means of grace whereby His grace may be continued and increased. (Joseph Benson.)
Receiving the Holy Ghost
1. It may be well to notice what questions the apostles did not put to these disciples. He did not ask--
2. But he does ask, “Have ye received?” etc. Consider--
I. The question.
1. In some respects it is a vital question. For the Holy Ghost is the Author of--
2. But where it is not vital it is nevertheless greatly important. I do not think we ought always to be asking the question, “Is this essential to our salvation?” Those are miserable souls who would be saved in the cheapest possible way. But I would remind the children of God that there is in the Holy Ghost not only what they absolutely need to save them, but much more. He is--
II. This question is assuredly answerable. There is a notion that you cannot tell whether you have the Holy Spirit or not; but you can. Give a man an electric shock, and he will know it; but if he has the Holy Ghost he will know it much more. “Oh,” says one, “I thought we must always say, ‘I hope so, I trust so.’” I know that jargon; but men do not say, “I hope I have an estate,” or, “I trust I have twenty shillings in the pound,” or, “I think I have a wife and children.”
1. There are many professors to whom this question is inevitable. I will pick out certain of them.
2. I know some to whom the question is needless. You meet them in the morning, soaring aloft, like the lark, in the praises of God. See them in trouble: they are resigned to their heavenly Father’s will. Mark how they spend their lives in hallowed service. You do not ask them if they have received the Holy Ghost; but you stand still and admire the work of the Spirit of God in them.
1. We are not to look for salvation to one single act of faith in the past, but to Jesus, in whom we continue to believe.
2. We must continue to live by receiving. We received Christ Jesus our Lord at the first, and now we receive the Holy Ghost.
3. We may not despise the very lowest form of spiritual life; nay, not even those who have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
4. The Holy Spirit always keeps sweet company with Jesus Christ. As long as these good people only knew John the Baptist, they could only know water baptism. It was only when they came to know Jesus that then the Spirit of God came upon them.
5. The Holy Ghost can be yet more fully possessed by all believers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Paul at Ephesus
Christ and His work are not the whole of Christianity: this is the main truth of the lesson, negatively put. Its positive statement: The manifestation of the Holy Spirit is essential to Christian knowledge, experience, and efficiency. The teaching and power of Divine truth culminate in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Read from the twenty-second verse of the second chapter of Acts. With masterly speed Peter lifts tier above tier the stately fabric of the new doctrine: the manifestation of God in the flesh, the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, exaltation at the right hand of God; but he crowns the whole by declaring, “Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” The experience was repeated to the Church in each crisis, each new beginning sanctioned by a new baptism. When Samaria received the Word of God, Peter and John came down and prayed for them, and “they received the Holy Ghost.” Wider opens the door for Gentiles at Caesarea, and “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word.” The movement which made Antioch a new centre of the Church was started by men “full of the Holy Ghost.” In the first missionary venture, in Cyprus, it was “Saul filled with the Holy Ghost” who turned heathen to believers. But to Ephesus this experience had not yet come. We can partly account for the deficiency of their knowledge. Paul had stopped at Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem and preached but once, yet so impressively that they besought him to remain. But he must hurry on to the feast. Priscilla and Aquila seem to have done nothing to carry on the work, perhaps knew nothing of it, as the apostle seems to have left them before going to the synagogue. Then came Apollos, with all his gifts, yet knowing nothing of Pentecost. If he had learned more from Paul’s two friends, he seems to have departed immediately to Greece. But imperfect work is not unblessed. The apostle returning found the little group of believers as a faint, clear flame in the darkness of that luxurious, superstitious city. But he missed in them that subtle something, not easily definable, but inevitably perceptible, which marks the spiritual life. The gift of the Holy Spirit is essential to understanding and realising Christian truth. This truth is tremendous beyond all other offered to the human mind. Yet who sees it or feels it in proportion to its majesty? It is as though the eye were dazed, the ear stunned, by the awfulness, and fail to give natural response. Even passing acquiescence may not issue in lasting acceptance. That is not a normal use of the faculties; knowledge should produce conviction. It is the express office of the Spirit of God to enlighten the mind and inflame the affections of a willing soul so that truth may become real and controlling. His work is supernatural, but not unnatural. It restores a lost sensibility, couches a blinded eye. He finds already in the mind itself a certain power of breaking through upon realities which have held themselves secluded. What boy has not groaned over some new principle in mathematics? At first, all is mist and mystery. Then he acquires the rule by dint of memory and the process by mechanical imitation. But after hours, months it may be, suddenly the heart of the hieroglyphic opens out like an exquisite flower blossoming in a mummy’s hand, and he revels in the poetry of mathematics. But in spiritual things this slowness of intellect is further crippled by spiritual incompetence. Sin creates a positive incapacity. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” Paul himself had proved this. He had known of Jesus of Nazareth, but only as one to persecute. Then came in a flash both vision and blindness; and after this the messenger sent, “That thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” The same is true of spiritual emotions. What incitements to feeling we have here! the Infinite Deity of absolute holiness; the Incarnate God; the Crucified One; the great white throne, judgment, conscious eternity. No adjective can delineate their impressiveness. Yet myriads of thinking, feeling beings who never question them as facts heed them less than dreams. The granite headlands of Cape Ann fling back the tidal waves of the Atlantic as lightly as the ripple caused by a leaping fish; and these hearts cast off the truths of their own eternal destiny more lightly than the gossip of a neighbour or the feigned sorrows of a drama’s heroine. If God Himself has any power at command which can restore to the soul its normal response, let those that love their fellow men, let the blind and deaf themselves, cry aloud, that they may be touched to live. If the unsaved themselves are thus unmoved, the more should those who have the gospel have the power of the Spirit. Oh, the Ephesian believers in our Churches! converted but powerless, believing somewhat, but knowing not the power of the Holy Ghost! But a strange comfort lies in the fact that only God Himself can supply such lack of power. Not by training and struggle the power comes, but by humble asking what He is more ready to give than are earthly parents to bestow good gifts upon their children. We look out with new vision, sweep a new range of achievement. Then open before the mind the truths that can save such a soul, the deep truths, the saving truths. Christ appears wonderfully glorious and His Cross past expression. Then we understand the meaning of atonement. All the unseen becomes the real, and the conviction of its reality and necessity stirs in the soul a new touch of power, to which hearts that were dry and hard yield like frosts in spring, for the breath of the Almighty is blowing free. This is service indeed, life indeed! Spirit is more than speech, unction than action. We are not told how the effects of this baptism showed themselves in the Ephesian Church, but we know how Paul wrought among them in the power of the Spirit. “At all seasons, with all humility of mind, with many tears and trials, teaching publicly and from house to house, pure from the blood of all men as not shunning to declare the whole counsel of God.” So must every soul be endued with power from on high, that it may do the work of Christ.
I. We learn that the Christian life involves a development. The popular mood of these days gives us conversions without sense of sin, union with the Church without separation from the world, activity without meditation and deep joy of communing with God. We must neither discredit these experiences nor rest with them. Though born of the Spirit, we are not born full grown. The Christian life has stages, sometimes marked off by sharp experiences, then gliding one into another, realised only as past; one as sunrise with one sparkling instant when the glittering disc touches the horizon; another, stealing up in clouds, unrecognised until we find full day around us. Each stage has its own explanation, vindication it may be, but only for the sake of the next. It is a camp, not an abiding city. Despise not the day of small things, in others, in yourself. Neither speak slightingly of experiences unknown to your own life, if sanctioned by the Word of God. God makes the caterpillar but for the destiny of the butterfly. A soul not growing towards God may well be puzzled at the wearisomeness of endless existence.
II. The duty grows out of the truth: Do your best where you are, press on for better. Never hold back effort because you know it must be imperfect, incomplete. If you have but one chance, seize it, as Paul his one Sunday at Ephesus. The good seed will not perish. Some Apollos will come to water it. God will give increase. The other side of this duty encourages those who feel oppressed by their own imperfect understanding of the truth. Do your best with what you have, and God will do His best for you. As Paul solemnly asked the Ephesians, this lesson comes to us today with its insistent demand: “Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed? Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Considerate and patient is the question. It does not deny that we are believers, or discredit what we have received, but it does require of us yet more. It comes to the unsatisfied Christian, whose conversion was a bare act of will or a blaze of emotion; in whose later experience obedience is ungraced by spiritual joy or appears as alternations from cold to hot, vibrating about a general lukewarmness, distasteful and profitless. Pray for the Spirit. It comes to baffled workers and unanswered suppliants. They use God’s own truth, their purpose is loyal, the effort unshrinking; but they yet wait their Pentecost. It has its message for those who do not believe. It faces the “moral man,” who accepts the Commandments and even thinks to rule his life by the Sermon on the Mount: whose conduct we admire and whose spirit we praise; with whom we find no fault, yet in whom we recognise a subtle and unmistakable lack--that he may ask for the Spirit. This abiding presence and mighty power of Deity is that manifestation given latest, to complete all that has been given before. (Charles M. Southgate.)
Paul at Ephesus
Paul at Athens stands for Christianity flinging down its challenge to the world philosophies; Paul at Ephesus, the rich port of the Orient, the seat of the splendid worship of Diana, the most dissolute spot on the globe, stands for Christianity summoning iniquitous heathenism to wash and be clean. Paul meets with the twelve disciples of John the Baptist. The life of John the Baptist to an earthly judgment seems a most pitiful failure. There is nothing more sublimely touching in history than the complete self-effacement of John the Baptist. But such a judgment of John the Baptist contains much error. We think of his work as being effaced. Yet here are twelve men, a quarter of a century after they have heard him, holding fast to the truths he taught. Who can tell how many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other lives there were, of whom we have never heard, who received at the hands of the Baptist for all eternity the impress of Divine truth? Call no man’s life unsuccessful because its results are not visible or measurable to us. Moreover, John the Baptist had the honour of being the greatest of forerunners. John the Baptist did nothing that stands for himself. All his work was but a pedestal for someone else to stand upon, John the Baptist deserves not our pity but our congratulation. Such thoughts concerning the forerunner are suggested to us by the appearance before Paul at Ephesus of twelve men who had accepted John’s message and had cherished it for thirty years. Now let us study the lessons of their appearance.
I. We see in their case the reality of an imperfect Christianity. There are certain simple things which, once truly possessed, make one a Christian. The line between death and salvation has been passed. Much advance is still possible, but it does not make the fact of one’s being a Christian one whir more real. The feeblest, weakest Christian is just as truly saved as the most advanced in the things of God.
1. The truth of this statement is plain in the case of these twelve disciples of John the Baptist. Just what they knew and just what they did not know has been much disputed by commentators, and to little use, as the Bible record is so slight. What was the extent of the Christianity of these men?
2. The general inference follows for ourselves that one may be a real Christian though a very imperfect one. If a wide knowledge of Divine truth in its extension and a deep experimental knowledge of its separate elements were required at the entrance, who could be saved? How gracious is the Lord in accepting us when there is so little in us that would seem to warrant Him in calling us His! And yet that little is everything. Faith may be smaller than a mustard seed to the eye, yet if it be genuine it has in it a mountain-moving potency.
3. Yet one thing must be said: that a genuine faith is one which utilises what knowledge it has. The message of John the Baptist was very fragmentary compared to the full revelation of God’s truth given by Christ, yet it had in it the power of salvation. The measure of our learning unto eternal life is not how much truth we have heard (as by preaching and teaching and reading), but how much we have incorporated into our own being. A very little food will save a human life, but not until it is assimilated.
II. The story of the twelve Johannean disciples shows us the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. The reply of the men to Paul’s question looks as though they had never known that there was such an existence as the Holy Spirit. But this is incredible in men who were probably Jews and certainly disciples of John--who knew of the Holy Spirit. Their reply must be understood in the light of Paul’s question (verse 2). And that question must be understood by the sequel when the Holy Spirit was given (verse 6). The Holy Spirit was given to them in miraculous form (it led them to speak” with tongues” and to prophesy), and this was the form of manifestation Paul was inquiring about and they were answering about. They meant, therefore, that they knew nothing of a Holy Spirit miraculously manifested; they did not intend to say they knew nothing at all of the existence of the Holy Spirit.
1. It was necessary that they should receive the Holy Spirit. The form in which they received Him was conditioned by the circumstances of the time. It was an age of beginnings. Christ had left the earth to take His throne in glory, and miracles were particularly calculated to allay the doubt of Christ’s continued existence and power which must arise in the first years of His bodily absence. Powerful signs were an evidence of Christ’s enthronement. It was necessary, therefore, that, in addition to that enlightenment of the Holy Spirit which is given to all at the beginning of the Christian life, there should be given to believers at that time this special endowment of the Spirit for temporary purposes which came by the laying on of apostolic hands.
2. The same necessity for the Spirit’s presence holds with us. The form of the Spirit’s manifestation has doubtless changed. The place of the Holy Spirit in the scheme of salvation is unchangeable. If a man could save himself he would not need supernatural help, he would not need the Holy Spirit. Salvation is in a change of heart, in being made a new creature before God. This is a superhuman work.
3. Always ought we therefore to be praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit. He makes ours all that Christ has secured for us at such infinite cost!
III. Although a very small faith has in it the power of salvation, yet there remains the duty of full belief.
1. Opportunity is of God. God gave them the chance to hear John the Baptist. They believed the message they heard as far as it went. God by His Providence had withheld from them full Christian knowledge. Then after a time He gave them another opportunity, which they also embraced. It is a helpful thought that God’s Providence is similarly directing us in our Christian opportunities. There are some far away from Church privileges, away from libraries, away from the possibility of reading Christian newspapers. Providence has cut off opportunity of growth by these external helps. Let such souls take courage. God has not forgotten them; He is leading them in His own way.
2. These men showed by their conduct that they had a desire for a more perfect faith. They had used what opportunity they had and were longing for more. The reason of Christian lethargy is never lack of opportunity, but failure to use what opportunities one has, which implies absence of the longing for growth. The smallness of Christian knowledge is not against it, but deadness is, even if it be very large. A little thing which is increasing will soon eclipse a big thing which is defunct.
3. When twelve men had a chance to have a new accretion of Christian faith they accepted it instantly (verse 5). There was promptitude in their belief because desire had gone before it. When the new knowledge came they did not have to debate whether they wanted it or not.
IV. The seal of success was given to Paul’s labour in Ephesus (verses 8-12). The blessing of heaven was upon his endeavours (verses 11, 12) in such a form that no one could mistake it.
1. The form was unusual, for special reasons which have already been named. Miracles were wrought because at that time miracles needed to be wrought.
2. Extensive success was part of the corroboration of Paul’s work being God’s work (verse 10).
3. Intensive success was an additional proof of the divineness of Paul’s work (verse 12). (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Paul at Ephesus
This lesson divides itself into two parts. In the first part we see how the gospel attracts those who are teachable. In the second part we see how it is repelled by those who are hardened. The teachable ones are some twelve disciples of John the Baptist, who were living at Ephesus. How disciples of John happened to be found thirty years after their master’s death so far away from the river Jordan we are not told, and yet it would be a strange coincidence if the labours of Apollos, an eloquent advocate of John’s baptism, whose presence in Ephesus is referred to in the preceding chapter, had no connection with the formation of this little band. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, a city which had been the scene of the labours of the Seventy (Septuagint), who translated the Old Testament into Greek, and was the home of Philo, the learned interpreter. In Alexandria Apollos became “mighty in the Scriptures,” and he hailed with enthusiasm the reformation which John had inaugurated, with repentance for its watchword and immersion for its sign. He had a perfect understanding of the significance Of this movement as a preparation of the Jews for the coming Messiah. Although thirty years had passed since the ascension of Jesus, no report of it had reached Ephesus, and though Alexandria is much nearer Mount Olivet, there is no record that any attempt had been made to evangelise Egypt. At all events Apollos, when he arrived in Ephesus, was still a disciple of John. Many of John’s disciples used to consort in Judaea with the Pharisees, whose frequent fasts were more congenial to them than the free and informal life of the apostles. “The disciple is not above his master,” and they did not rise above the state of doubt expressed by John in the question which he seat to Jesus from his dungeon: “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” If the followers of John in Judaea were not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, it is not strange if those living, like Apollos, in Alexandria, and the twelve in Ephesus, were utterly unacquainted with the triumphs of the risen and ascended Christ and of the descending Spirit. What Apollos taught when he came to Ephesus was the necessity of repentance and of the confession of sins. The motives he urged were the fan and the fire, the fan with which the coming Messiah would separate the wheat for His garner, and the fire with which the chaff would be burned. Those who honestly repented and forsook their evil ways made a public acknowledgment of their faith by submitting to a rite that signified complete purification. John had told the people to “believe on Him that should come after him,” but after his own hesitation in accepting Jesus as the Messiah it is not likely that anything more definite was demanded by his successors. We are then to understand that the disciples whom Paul found at Ephesus had been taught “the way of the Lord” as far as John knew it and no, further. In other words, they were in a transition state, having accepted all the light they had seen, and were now waiting for more. They knew little of Jesus and less of the Holy Spirit, but they were seekers after God. They needed someone to “show them the way of the Lord more perfectly.” The very first question put to them by Paul showed that he was an advocate who knew how to get at the root of a matter at once. The specific difference between Christian baptism and the baptism of John is brought out by this question. John himself recognised the: same difference when he said: “I indeed baptize you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” The Saviour called attention to this fundamental distinction in His last interview with His apostles, and now Paul implies by his question that Christian baptism is not complete without the gift of the Holy Spirit. This inquiry should be made of every believer. The gospel is first of all a message to the ear and to the understanding, but it is more than that. When the Word of truth is mixed with faith in the heart, then the heart is quickened by the Holy Spirit. The reply given to the apostle’s question indicated plainly that these disciples knew more of repentance than of regeneration, and that, they were still living under the law of works and not under the law of the spirit of life. They had not heard, no one in Ephesus had heard till Paul came, of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They were still shut up in the dark, not knowing that it was high noon. They acknowledged their ignorance with the utmost candour. They were well named disciples, for they were ready to learn. Members of Churches today who are destitute of the Holy Spirit cannot justify themselves by any such plea of ignorance. (W. W. Everts.)
Faith in a Holy Ghost
I. Implies an habitual sense of the reality of a spiritual world.
1. There is in fallen human nature a constant tendency to sink under the dominion of materialistic habits of thought. I do not now speak of formal materialistic systems, but of that materialism which tells us that we are too sensible a race to run after metaphysical and theological phantoms. “Go on your way,” it whispers, “O most practical people! Vex not yourselves with problems which have wearied the human soul for centuries, to no purpose. Believe in your senses; make matter more and more entirely your slave. Here only progress is possible.”
2. The bearing of all this on the idea of an invisible world is unmistakable, and no Christian can regard it without distress, for this popular, untheoretic, yet most real materialism is radically inconsistent with any recognition of the truth before us, which involves belief in the existence of a supersensuous world, within and upon which the Divine Spirit lives and acts. Certainly, this belief carries us completely beyond the precincts of sense. What in Himself the Eternal Spirit is, who shall say? And how spirit acts on spirit; how the Divine Spit it acts on ours must for ever remain a mystery. But to admit it at all is to deny the premises of a great deal of popular writing and conversation.
3. You may reply, that this practical materialism is not to be thus refuted. No: not for theoretical materialists. Yet we may pause to observe that civilisation itself, which we are told is to advance in an inverse ratio to man’s belief in the Invisible, itself obliges us to resist the advance of materialism. Who were the founders of modern civilisation? Men who believed in the Invisible. And upon what does civilisation really repose? Not upon our conquests in the world of matter, which may merely add to our capacities for extraordinary brutality; but upon the prevalence of moral ideas--of the idea of duty, of justice, of conscience. They are products of the supersensuous world; they altogether belong to it, although they form the very foundations of our social fabric. These ideas are as much out of the reach of sense as is the action of the Holy Spirit upon a human soul; we see the ideas as we see that action, only in their effects, not in themselves. A really consistent materialism would have inaugurated pure barbarism if it could have succeeded in destroying them.
II. Protects us against the advance of materialistic ideas into the very sanctuary of Christian thought.
1. There is such a thing as the materialised estimate of the life of Christ. How many men conceive of Christ as of a Teacher of commanding influence. Recognising this, they gather up all that can illustrate His appearance among men. The idioms of Eastern speech, the scenery, flora, climate, customs of Palestine, all are summoned by the highest literary skill, that they may place vividly before us the exact circumstances which surrounded the life of Christ. But here too often the appreciation of that life really ends. Where He is now, what He is, whether He can act upon us, are points which they dismiss as belonging, to the category of theological abstractions. And if St. Paul were here, would he not say this, that they know Christ only after the flesh? Now, belief in and communion with the Holy Spirit rescues the life of Christ from this exclusively historical way of looking at it. For the Holy Spirit perpetually fulfils Christ’s promise--“He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you.” The Spirit weans Christian thought from too exclusive an attention to the outward, and concentrates it upon the inward features, and forces in upon us the habitual recollection that Christ is what He was. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” And how? Politicians are present after death, by the laws or dynasties which they have established. The intellectual survive by the force of the ideas to which they have given currency. The good and the bad live by the persuasive beauty or the repellent ugliness of their examples. Was the presence of Christ to be of this description? No. It was to be a real, but a spiritual presence. The Spirit is emphatically the Spirit of Christ, because He is the Minister of Christ’s supersensuous presence.
2. There is a materialised estimate of the Christian Church. The Church has of course an earthly side, and there are many Christians who see no more than this. They mistake the kingdom of the Spirit for a merely human organisation, patronised by the State in the interests of civil order, education, and philanthropy. They are exclusively concerned with the mere outward trappings of the Church. But the Church is a spiritual society, and it is only faith in the Spirit that enables us to grasp this, to act out all it means, and to share the certain triumphs which such a society must win.
3. There is such a thing as materialised worship. That the sense of beauty may be appealed to in order to win the soul to God, is a principle consecrated by the language and example of Scripture; and it seems to be the true and generous instinct of an earnest piety to deem no measure of artistic beauty too great for the embellishment of the temples and service of Christ. Nor is there any real connection between spirituality and that slovenliness which is sometimes termed “simplicity.” But this truth should not blind us to the fact that aesthetic aids to worship may, like other blessings, be perverted, by coming to be regarded as ends. Let us give of our best to the churches and the service of our God; but let us ever remember that, since He is a Spirit, they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Surely, to realise the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and in the Church, is to be anxious that the inner realities of worship should as far transcend its outward accompaniments, as the kingdom of the Invisible transcends the world of sense.
III. Implies a correspondent elevation of character. It implies that a man aims at something higher than mere morality. Yet, before we think disparagingly of morality, we do well to ask ourselves how far it may not rebuke us for falling as far below as we profess to rise above it. Nevertheless, the Eternal Spirit has Himself set up in the world a school of morals; and He whispers within the soul a deeper and purer code than nature dreams of. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” How unnatural, men say, they are! True! but not in the sense of contradicting nature so much as in that of transcending it. And if we will reach that high standard, we may with the Spirit’s help. He makes the feeble strong, and the melancholy bright, and the cold-blooded fervent, and the irascible gentle, and the uninstructed wise, and the conceited humble, and the timid unflinching. (Canon Liddon.)
The baptism of the Spirit
I. What is this blessing? The Lord Jesus is the life of His people, for in Him they are “complete.” But the teaching here does not exalt God the Spirit by giving a lower place to God the Son. For the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. To have Him, therefore, is to have the Spirit of Christ--
1. Becoming our spirit. We think of our Lord, “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” and it is almost startling to read, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”; yet that is precisely the result of the reception of the Holy Ghost; “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.”
2. Revealing Him to us. We often wish we had seen Christ “after the flesh.” We can think of nothing better. But it was as something better that He promised the Comforter. “It is expedient for you,” etc.; “a little while, and ye shall not see Me, and again a little while and ye shall see Me.” Pentecost opened the eyes of the apostles; they knew their Lord then as they had not known Him; He was a hundredfold more to them from that hour than when He walked with them on earth. It is on the baptism of the Spirit that ever-growing perception of the wondrous fulness of His glory and trace depend. “Neither will I hide My face any more from them, for I have poured out My Spirit upon the house of Israel.”
3. Qualifying us to serve Him. It not only gives us more of Christ, but Christ more of us. The coming of the Holy Ghost was a baptism of power; it was a new zeal, a new perception of truth, a new utterance, a new force.
II. Is there reason to think we may receive this baptism? No doubt this must be answered in the affirmative; there is a reception of the Holy Ghost which corresponds to what we need. For consider that the bestowment of the Spirit on the New Testament Church was--
1. Greatly to exceed what was given before (John 7:38-39). “The Holy Ghost was not yet”! That is a remarkable expression. All spirituality is from Him; under His influence patriarchs worshipped, psalmists sang, prophets wrote, and holy men of old lived saintly lives. That must mean that the measure of the Spirit’s bestowment after Jesus was glorified would be such that His previous bestowment would be as nothing. And the favourite Old Testament expression “pour” points to an overwhelming abundance, far beyond what preceded the time to which it refers.
2. Set forth as the Crowning Gift of the Risen Lord. This was strongly emphasised by His herald. As our Lord’s ministry neared its close His thoughts were fixed on this. And after He rose it was His frequent theme. Does it not seem as though He regarded it as the end of His incarnation and that which, having made the atonement that secured it, He hastened to grant! If so, it is the undoubted heritage of all for whom that atonement avails.
3. Plainly declared to be possible to all believers. That is the point we fail to grasp. We think this was fulfilled once for all, but Pentecost was repeated even in the history of the apostles (Acts 4:31); nor was it limited to them, nor to the Church at Jerusalem, it was repeated in the household of Cornelius, whilst in the incident before us it is repeated again in Ephesus. And doubt is finally removed as we still listen to Peter (Acts 2:39).
III. Why, then, have we not received it? “Have ye received the Holy Ghost,” as the apostles did? If we answer that our spiritual state is more like theirs before than after Pentecost, that may be due, in part, to--
1. Lack of knowledge. “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost,” or, at least, such a possible reception of Him as this. We have thought of the Pentecostal blessing as power to speak with tongues.
2. Failure in prayer. For prayer is a condition of its bestowment. Those to whom it was first given had “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” A second time, “when they had prayed,…they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Christ Himself received it thus--when being baptized He was praying. And He said, “Your Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.”
3. Lack of consecration to Christ. Before Pentecost the apostles placed themselves at their Lord’s disposal. Then the blessing came. Nor will it ever come otherwise. The world spirit cannot receive it, for He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive”; the disobedient cannot receive it, for He is “the Holy Ghost whom God hath given to them that obey Him”; lack of love cannot receive it, for we mark the connection: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God; let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger,” etc.; self-seeking cannot receive it (for, alas! like Simon the sorcerer we may desire the baptism of the Spirit for personal ends), for “when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall glorify Me.” Conclusion: To prayer and consecration this sorely-needed, all-inclusive blessing is never far off. There may, indeed, even then be a time of waiting. Nor may it come as we expect, for its recorded manifestations were not in every case alike. It may come to us as the dove, peace bringing; or as a baptism of fire, consuming our dross; or as the pouring out of rain, sweeping away our evils, and making buried seeds and drooping graces revive; or as the withering wind, making the goodliness of the flesh to fade, but the final issue will be the same; we shall be filled with the mind of Christ, and growingly transformed into His likeness; we shall live in fellowship with Him; and our words and works, yea, our very life, will become channels of grace to men, so that on every side they will cry “What must we do to be saved?” (C. New.)
The gospel test
1. These men were already disciples. What lacked they yet? Paul came among them with a single question. Did ye, after coming to faith in Christ, receive that outpouring of His Holy Spirit which is the sign and seal of His chosen? That was a very definite question. It referred to a gift which could not come without their knowing it.
2. The answer was as plain as the question, Now it was impossible for any reader of the Old Testament to be ignorant of the existence of the Holy Spirit. The very second verse of the Bible speaks of Him. And the devotions of holy men recognised more than His mere existence (Psalms 51:1-19). All that is good in man has ever been the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore these disciples could not literally mean that they did not know of any such Person. What they say is, We did not even hear, when we believed, whether there is such a thing, in the gospel sense of the words, as the Holy Spirit; whether, that is, the great promise, as conveyed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel, of a special outpouring of the Spirit is yet fulfilled. If any doubt could otherwise have rested upon the meaning of this question and its answer, it will be removed by a reference to John 7:39. “The Spirit was not yet”--or, “not yet was there” [in the distinctive gospel sense of the words] “a Spirit--because Jesus was not yet glorified”; even as our Lord Himself said, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” etc. The Holy Ghost was not yet come, because Christ was not yet gone. Even so it is here. These disciples had not yet heard of Pentecost.
3. And not to have heard this proved them to be ignorant of the very elements of Christian truth. “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Christian baptism is a baptism “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”--the way of admission into that Church in which the Holy Spirit dwells, for the use of each one of its members. “Into what then were ye baptized,” if you have not so much as heard whether there be any such Holy Spirit? The answer explained all. They had only received the baptism of John: who stood, himself, outside the Church, insomuch that it was said of him, “Notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater,” in privilege and in possession, than he, the greatest of the prophets. This baptism was designed only as a temporary and preliminary ordinance; inasmuch as after it came a baptism not of water only but of fire; not of repentance only and reformation, but of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost.
4. “When they heard this” (verses 5, 6). Thus were fulfilled in them those words afterwards addressed to the same Church (Ephesians 1:13). The miraculous gifts of the early Church are withdrawn, chiefly because they have done their work, because they have lost their necessity as signs. It is in His ordinary rather than in His extraordinary gifts that we trace the hand of God now. In this respect the Holy Spirit is only where He acts; and, where He acts, He shows that He is acting; and, where He shows His operation, it is by signs of a certain particular nature, written down for us in Scripture. I will select three of them to serve as heads of inquiry, when we are asked by St. Paul, and by One greater still, Have ye received that Holy Spirit, which all who believe in Christ were to receive? The fruit of the Spirit is--
I. Joy. Are you happy? the text says, You do not look so. I know that you have an excuse for this. Your circumstances are perplexing; trade is bad; the sky of the future dark and lowering. St. Paul might have said many things of this kind. In every respect but one I will venture to say St. Paul was worse off than you. And yet St. Paul could say when he was asked, Hast thou received the Holy Ghost? Yes, for I am filled with joy! yea, I can glory in tribulations also! If a man has the Spirit of Christ, in the same degree he is a joyful man. Do not put away from you this first test. For could anything so recommend the gospel to a man living in a troublesome world as this fact, that it offers him joy?
II. Gentleness. Are you kind? Do you think of the feelings of others? Do you never allow in yourself that miserable excuse, “It is only my way; I do not mean it”? There are other words in the list of the same character. The fruit of the Spirit is love, longsuffering, goodness, meekness. Every part of the gospel is full of this topic. And how bright would human life be, by comparison, if it also were full of gentleness! Alas! where is the house in which some ungentle spirit is not more or less marring the general tranquillity? Even good manners cannot succeed in doing thoroughly this work of the Holy Spirit. Other things break down somewhere: they who are courteous to strangers are not always courteous at home: they who are agreeable to equals are not always considerate to servants; it is only that Divine Spirit which touches the very spring of being which can make gentleness uniform, genuine and heart-deep.
III. Temperance--i.e., self-control, inward strength. It is not one appetite only which it rules: it is all the appetites. It is not that spurious virtue which casts out one evil spirit by the help of others, and compounds for pride and contempt and self-righteousness and utter ungodliness by deifying one single abstinence into man’s sole virtue. It is the power of saying No to inclination. It is the not being brought under the power of anything, save the law of God, save the love of Christ. And who has got this without being a Christian? (Dean Vaughan.)
The Pentecostal test
1. These disciples were Christians, but separated from the common body, and ignorant of the common doctrine. Paul soon perceives the secret of their isolation, and makes them feel their defect by his abrupt question. They explain their case, receive fuller instruction, are baptized into Jesus, and the signs of a little Pentecost accompany their full admission into the Church.
2. There were three lesser Pentecosts after the great one, continuing with lessening demonstration the original signs--when Peter threw open the gate to the Gentiles, when Samaria was added to the fold, and now when the Spirit set His seal on the dispensation of the Baptist. After this there are no more renewals of the Pentecostal tokens--the extraordinary signs melt into the ordinary. This question--
I. Finds out the weakness of a vague kind of faith which does not pay due honour to the person and work of the Holy Ghost.
1. The Ephesians were in ignorance of the full revelation of the Trinity. Of the Personality of the Spirit, as also of the Person of Christ, into whose name they were not yet baptized, they had only an indistinct knowledge, and hence the supreme revelation of the Son had not unfolded the Father.
2. The holders of this scanty creed today cannot evade the test by asserting that they hold all that is vitally necessary, in that they believe God, that they accept the teaching of Christ, and that they acknowledge a supernatural power resting on the mind, whether called the influence of the Holy Ghost or not. The Spirit is God in the unity of the Father and the Son. As there is no Redeemer but a Divine Redeemer, so there is no Holy Ghost but the third Person of the Trinity.
II. Discovers deficiency in those who in their views of personal religion practically leave out the Holy Ghost.
1. No truth is more deeply stamped on the New Testament than the necessity of the Spirit’s illumination to an experimental acquaintance with Christ and His salvation. As none know the Father save through the Son, so none can “call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” He makes the Word effectual in conviction of sin, in the energy of faith, in the revelation of mercy, and in renewal and sanctification.
2. But it is equally true that there may be correct theological belief and ceremonial exactness without conscious enjoyment of the Spirit.
III. Searches those who have received the Spirit in his preparatory influences, but not yet in fulness of His grace.
1. These Ephesians were disciples of John, whose ministry had its value in this, that it prepared for Christ and His baptism of the Spirit. They were penitents waiting for mercy, and while the Saviour had come they knew Him not.
2. With regard to this great class there is in our question an abundant promise. It detects a deficiency only that it may be supplied; for there is nothing more remarkable than the sudden way in which these men were translated out of their partial darkness into perfect light.
IV. Detects in the regenerate whatever is inconsistent with the high privilege contained in such a gift.
1. They have received the Holy Ghost, but they have forgotten the conditions on which His presence is suspended, and have fallen into the habit of grieving that Spirit by whom they are sealed. Hence the question serves only to remind them of better days, and gives birth to other questions. Having received the Spirit, why have you not been one with Him in temper, desire, and act?
2. But if the question awakens regret, in that sorrow there is hope. The Spirit is not easily driven from the soul He has once inhabited. The duty of such a troubled Christian is plain. There is occasion now for a fresh repentance; and if with all our heart we ask for the tokens of reconciliation, He will give them as richly as at the first.
V. Applies to those who are not fixing their minds steadily on the Spirit’s supreme design in their sanctification. Some undervalue this sanctifying power as received by the believer on his first union with Christ. They read the question as if it ran, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost at some epoch of transcendent consecration, raising the regenerate life into a higher sphere?” But Paul actually said, “Did ye receive?” etc. There is no distinction between a state of regeneration and a state of higher religious life. The same Spirit whom we receive in the new birth is given for our entire consecration. Then do not undervalue the grace you inherit as having the Holy Ghost. There is no limit to His present willingness to fill, rule, and consecrate the soul. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
The gift of the Holy Spirit
I. The Holy Spirit testifies of Christ. To manifest Him, to draw men to Him, to bring them into captivity to His easy yoke and light burden--this is the Spirit’s operation in the human heart. And this it could never be before Jesus was glorified.
II. The Spirit has wrought since the day of Pentecost as He never wrought before, in the testimony which He bears in the heart of every individual believer. We do not read of any such direct access to God granted to individual men in ancient times.
III. Again, the indwelling Spirit of these latter days of the Church is eminently the Spirit of wisdom. The humble child, walking by the light of this Spirit, is wiser than his teachers if they have Him not.
IV. Lastly, the Spirit of God now abiding among us is a transforming Spirit; not merely enlightening, nor merely comforting, nor merely conferring the adoption of sons, but changing us into the image of God, begetting in us a thirst to be like Him whose sons we are, to have done with sin, and to cast off corruption and to put on perfect holiness. (H. Alford.)
I. The influence of the Holy Ghost on the department of relief. We are often where these Ephesians were. God the Holy Spirit came into them, and then their old belief opened into a different belief; then they really believed. Can any day in man’s life compare with that day?
II. The Holy Spirit not only gives clearness to truth, but gives delight and enthusiastic impulse to duty. The work of the Spirit was to make Jesus vividly real to man. What He did then for any poor Ephesian man or woman who was toiling away in obedience to the law of Christianity was to make Christ real to the toiling soul behind and in the law. I find a Christian who has really received the Holy Ghost, and what is it that strikes and delights me in him? It is the intense and intimate reality of Christ. Christ is evidently to him the dearest person in the universe. He talks to Christ. He dreads to offend Christ. He delights to please Christ. His whole life is light and elastic, with this buoyant desire of doing everything for Jesus just as Jesus would wish it done. Duty has been transfigured. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
How shall we know whether the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us? The tokens of His indwelling are such as cannot be mistaken.
1. One of them is the growing love of our neighbour which He works in us.
2. There is another test--the hatred of sin.
3. There is yet a third test--that of love of Christ in God. Let us ask Him to burn up all the wood and stubble wherewith we have been building in ourselves after a fashion of our own, and build up in us a sincere trust in Himself and His Son. (Abp. Thomsom.)
The gift of the Holy Spirit necessary to the spiritual life
Have you ever been under the water in a diving bell? I have; and very glad I was to get up again! The bottom of the diving bell is open just like an ordinary bell or a tumbler, and all the time we were below air was being pumped into the bell through tubes from above. Without this constant supply of air we could not have lived. We were out of our natural element. As a fish cannot live out of water, so neither could we exist under the water except under special conditions. The fresh air coming into the bell kept the water out of it and kept us alive. Had it not been for this constant stream of pure air we must have died by drowning or suffocation. Now, every man, woman, boy, and girl born into this world is, in one sense, like a person in a diving bell. We are made for heaven, not merely for earth. We need the air of heaven, or our souls cannot live. This beautiful earth suits our bodies, but our spirits require something more. We need the atmosphere which is from above. God supplies us with the breath of spiritual life. He gives us the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the Sabbath, and means of grace to help our souls in this life and to prepare us for the next; and if we inhale the Divine air which God supplies for our use, our souls will live, and our spiritual life will act upon our bodies and make us happy, good, and useful. (T. L. Cuyler.)
The Holy Spirit as a conscious possession
Dr. McDonald, of Ferintosh, whom the Lord so signally blessed in Scotland upwards of half a century ago, and to whom the Lord gave such multitudes of souls, had often to deal with young believers, and to warn them in regard to the future of their life. He used to put the question to them thus: “Why is it that so many who made a hopeful profession at the beginning seem so quickly to fail?” and he answered the question by saying, “It was because they started business without capital.” By this he meant that the indwelling of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Power for a pure life and devoted service was not personally and specially asked for and obtained as a conscious possession; hence the failure. (W. Ross.)
The gift of the Spirit
A clergyman told to the Rev. Asa Mahan the following story of his mother:--“For years past she has been wholly confined to her bed from nervous prostration. During the early part of this period it did seem that no one could take care of her or endure her continued manifestations of irritability, impatience, fretfulness, and furious anger. Right there, she became fully convinced that through grace and the baptism of the Spirit she could have perfect rest, quietude, and self-control. She set her whole heart upon attaining that state. Such was her fervency of spirit and earnestness in prayer, that her friends thought she would become deranged, and urged her to cease seeking and prayer. ‘I die in the effort,’ was her reply, ‘or I obtain what I know to be in reserve for me.’ At length the baptism of power came gently upon her. From that hour there has not been the slightest indication of even the remains of that temper. Her quietude and assurance have been absolute, and her sweetness of spirit ‘as ointment poured forth.’ It is no trouble to anyone now, but a privilege to all, to care for her. Many come, even from long distances, to listen to her divine discourse.” Years passed on, and again he was asked, “What of your mother? Does her faith hold out? She is gone,” was the reply. “But from the hour of that baptism to that of her death that quietude and assurance remained, and the ineffable sweetness of temper was never for a moment interrupted. I witnessed the closing scene. She died of cholera, and in the greatest conceivable agony. Yet such patience, such serenity of hope, and such quiet waiting for the coming of the Lord, I hardly before deemed possible. ‘My son,’ she would say, ‘nature has a hard struggle; but it will soon be over,’ and I shall ‘enter into the zest that remains for the people of God.’”
And he welt into the synagogue.
Paul’s ministry at Ephesus
I. Wonderful preaching.
1. Manner of the preaching.
2. Rejection of the preaching.
3. Extent of the preaching: “Two years; so that all … in Asia heard.”
II. Wonderful healing.
1. Righteous miracles performed.
2. Unrighteous miracles attempted.
3. Lessons: The Great Physician--
III. Wonderful repenting.
1. Moved to repentance.
2. Repentance (Matthew 3:6; Romans 10:10; 2 Corinthians 7:9; 1 John 1:9).
3. Fruits of repentance.
Paul’s ministry at Ephesus
1. Preaching the truth (Acts 19:8-10).
2. Proving the truth (Acts 19:11-12).
3. Perverting the truth (Acts 19:13-16).
4. Practising the truth (Acts 19:17-20). (A. F. Schauffler.)
Paul’s preaching at Ephesus
What this was we gather from the context, from the valedictory address at Miletus, and from the Epistle to the Ephesians. The apostle proclaimed--
I. The gospel as a true, Divine, and saving revelation (Ephesians 1:13).
1. It was not a new opinion or system; it was the word of truth. As such the apostle proclaimed it; not as its originator, but simply as its herald. He told it because he had been commissioned to tell it; and not in fragments or in shapes of growing clearness and symmetry, but at once in all its fulness and perfection. It is truth; therefore accept it, and live by it. If you refuse it, it is at the peril of your souls.
2. For it is not only truth, but gospel--good news, of which salvation is the theme. Men cannot know what the salvation is till they feel what the danger is; and that danger is beyond description--the guilt and misery of sin--guilt that man cannot expiate, and misery out of which he can by no effort or sorcery charm himself. Must it not, then, be good news to hear of deliverance?
II. Christ as the one theme in this word of truth and the one Agent in this salvation. The vagabond Jews used as their spell, “Jesus, whom Paul preacheth.” They characterised his preaching by this, and truly. He preached Jesus--no one but Jesus; the same in the school of Tyrannus as it had been in the synagogue, the same at his second visit as at his first.
1. As the one Saviour, able and willing to save.
2. As Master, presenting a perfect example, and giving ability to copy it.
3. As Judge.
4. As the Reconciler of Jew and Gentile, and of both to God (Ephesians 2:14-16).
5. As the chief Cornerstone which unites and sustains the Church (Ephesians 2:20-21).
III. Repentance towards God and faith towards our lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
1. Repentance is that state of heart which every sinner ought to cherish before God, whose law he has broken, and whose sentence he has merited. To feel sin, to mourn over it, to confess it without reserve or apology, to hate it, to forsake it, and in God’s name and strength to follow after holiness. Evangelical contrition is very different from selfish despair, and from “the sorrow of the world which worketh death,” for it is the first pulsation of life.
2. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ--faith resting on Him as its one object; for Christ is not Saviour to anyone in reality till He be believed in. Faith is thus the cardinal or distinctive grace, and the want of it is fatal. Up till the first moment of faith no saving change is produced on the heart.
3. Repentance and faith were his twin doctrines--repentance towards God, as He it is who loved us, though we so heinously sinned against Him; and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, as He it is who, bearing the penalty, is “the propitiation through faith in His blood.” For repentance and faith are united closely--repentance conditioned by faith, and faith urged and necessitated by repentance.
IV. The necessity of holiness and its connection with heaven as the preparation for it (Ephesians 4:20-24; Ephesians 5:5). When among them he had insisted on purity of heart and life, on entire renovation, the putting off of the old man, renewal in the spirit of the mind, and the assumption of the new man. This purity is called learning Christ and obedience to the truth “as the truth is in Jesus.” And he says, “Ye know” it--ye know what holiness and unworldliness are incumbent upon you as expectants of glory. For Christ is Master as well as Saviour, the object of imitation as well as the object of faith. The design of His death is to bring man back to his primeval state--“righteousness and true holiness.” The sins which the apostle censures in the Ephesian Church are yet far from uncommon among us. Intemperance, for example--how many jocular and palliative names are given to it; and impurity--what neutral, nay, graceful terms have been coined to cover its baseness! But Christ’s authority interposes, and we dare not tamper with sin; the purity of heaven is before us, and we must be made meet for it. (Prof. Eadie.)
Disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
The school of Tyrannus
The Greek word for “school” had a somewhat interesting history. Originally meaning “leisure,” it was applied to leisure as bestowed on study, then, as here, to the place in which study was pursued; lastly, as in our phrase, “the school of Zeno or Epicurus,” as a collective term for the followers of a conspicuous teacher. In this case it was probably a lecture room which, as the private property of the owner, was lent or let to the apostle. Of the Tyrannus here mentioned nothing more is known with certainty, but the name is connected with one or two interesting coincidences that are more or less suggestive. Like its Latin equivalent, Rex, it was not uncommon among the class of slaves or freedmen. It is found in the Columbarium of the household of Livia on the Appian Way, and as belonging to one who is described as a Medicus or physician. Both names and professions in this class were very commonly hereditary, and the hypothesis that this Tyrannus was also a physician, and that as such he may have known St. Luke, or possibly may have been among the Jews whom the decree of Claudius (Acts 18:2) had driven from Rome, and so shared the fate of Aquila and Priscilla, fits in with and explains the facts recorded. An unconverted teacher of philosophy or rhetoric was not likely to have lent his class room to a preacher of the new faith. (Dean Plumptre.)
The school house of Ephesus
1. Here is Paul in a school house in which the learning of the day was taught. But Paul makes up his mind they need some religion there, and so he goes into it; and daily for two years he gave lectures on Christianity.
I. If the Word of God was appropriate for the public school of Ephesus, why not for public schools elsewhere? Higher than university, than Legislative hall, than Presidential chair, is the common school of this country, because it provides the orators, the painters, the poets, the legislators, the judges, the presidents; dropping upon a million homes the benediction of light and refinement. So queenly a system must be affianced to the king of books, the Bible. This union has given us all we have of culture and refinement. After you put a building up, it is a poor thing to pull out the cornerstone. Suppose I should go to the architect of this building and say, “You have no right to be here today.” “Why,” he would reply, “I built it.” And people would gather around and say, “If anybody has a right to be here, he has.” Now, my friends, the Word of God is the architect, the foundation, the pillars, the capstone of the great common school system, and there shall be no political nor demoniacal power on earth or hell to expel it.
II. Yet a determined effort is being made to expel it. In support of this it is said--
1. “It does not make any difference. What is the reading of half a dozen verses of a chapter in a school?” I go into an apothecary’s store with a prescription. In making it up the chemist takes one liquid, then another, and then a third, and finally he takes out a small phial, and drops into the general admixture one or two drops. I say to him, “Why do you waste time by putting in those drops?” “Oh,” he says, “this is the most important part of the prescription. This changes the entire nature of the thing. Without it, it would be death; with it, it will be cure and life.” Now you come up to the common school admixture, and you say: “There is a quart of arithmetic, and there are two gills of geography, and a pint of grammar, and what is just one or two drops of Scriptural reading going to do?” I say it is the most important part of the prescription. It changes the whole nature of everything. Untold blessings depend on the Bible staying where it is. Untold disorder follow upon its being thrust out.
2. The common school was intended only to give secular education. I reply that it is to develop our children so that they shall be prepared for the duties of life. Suppose a man should go to a gymnasium, and say to the manager, “I wish you would make that little finger more agile, and strong, and healthy; and develop the toe of the right foot.” Why, he would say, “You must be insane. If I take you in my institution, I purpose to develop your entire physical organism, and then of course your hand and foot will get the benefit of it. But I can’t undertake to treat just the foot and hand.” Now you come up to the common school, and you say, “Give us secular education, but don’t give us religious education.” In other words, touch only the tip end of this complex nature; don’t get up into the region of the soul: give the children reading, writing, and arithmetic. Ah, we cannot educate our children in this infinitesimal manner. Do you think a man is prepared for the duties of life merely because because he can cipher, or is a good penman? The biggest thief in New York understands arithmetic, and can wield a very skilful pen when it is to put somebody else’s name at the foot of a money draft. What this country wants is the pressure of a high moral obligation on her young people, and that you can get from no book except the Bible. The rights of our Jewish and Roman Catholic fellow citizens will be invaded. Well, look at that little urchin! Before him stands the teacher, inflicting him with these oppressive words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”; “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Alas! for the defenceless little Jewish and Roman Catholic children, crushed under the Beatitudes. Besides this, the Bible is the most unsectarian Book in the world. Wyckliffe, and Coverdale, and Matthew translated the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church; and our translation is substantially the same thing. The Bible in the schools does not propose to proselyte. The Bible taught in a Presbyterian Church may get a Presbyterian twist, or taught in a Roman Catholic Church may get a Roman Catholic twist; but the Bible as read in our schools without note or comment, will get no such twist. And then neither Romanists nor Jews have any objection to the Bible as such. Who then want it expelled chiefly? Well, the men who are loose in religious notions, or loose in morals, or base politicians, and for good reasons. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
(children’s sermon):--Do you not pity the poor children who had to go to the school of one Tyrannus? But whenever a schoolmaster is found to be tyrannous nowadays, people write to the newspapers, and Tyrannus is forced to become a little less tyrannous, and the children have a better time of it. You have all to go to some school, but there are some things you can learn not set down in bill, but are worth a very great deal. There, e.g., is--
I. Punctuality. Never be late for school or for anything. God is very punctual. If the sun was late all the clocks would be wrong, and people would be greatly put about; and when you are late mother is put about, and teacher, and yourself; and when attendance marks are read, you wish you had been punctual. Learn the habit of being punctual in all things. If you make but a little mistake in multiplication, that mistake goes on multiplying itself. An unpunctual person puts many other people wrong.
II. Honour. Honour and honesty come from the same word. Now I daresay you would not steal anything with your hands. But did you never at school look over another and copy his answer? That was not honourable--it was dishonest. Learn to be honourable at school. Your teacher is trusting you. Never do mean things. Even when the teacher does not see you, God does. It is good to be clever, but it is better still to be good.
III. Courage. Is not it strange that anyone should need courage to say what is true? You would think it needed more courage to say what was wrong, for he would be very bold who would say that two and two made five. He would not need to be very bold, who said that two and two made four. Yes; but that only shows how far we have all got wrong through sin, that most people are afraid to say what is right. Say boldly when a thing is wrong, that it is wrong, and when it is right, that it is right, and stand by it.
IV. Kindness. Think of others; think of teacher; sometimes he is worried and troubled, or sometimes she has a headache. And try to have a kind way with the other children. Learn kindness in the school, and when you come into the world you will find this to be one of the best lessons you ever learnt in your life, for it is in lovingkindness the spirit of Jesus grows up. (J. R. Howatt.)
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists.
Seven sons of Sceva
A great spiritual revolution had taken place in Ephesus. At first Paul found the twelve disciples without Christian knowledge beyond the baptism of John. Under Paul’s ministry the Holy Ghost had been poured out, and from that time great interest was felt in the whole subject of spiritual influence. From time immemorial superstition has grown in Ephesus, and to add one superstition to another came quite easy. Christianity was another department of magic, and the men who had practised exorcism were willing to try it. We must not dismiss the men as impostors. They wanted to do a good work, and so far we must credit them with a good motive. A wonderful testimony--the more wonderful because unconscious is here borne to the power of Christianity. If Paul had failed, the Ephesians never would have tried the new art. Much is expected of Christians today, as much was expected of Paul in his time. Necromancers may fail in their momentary trick, but Christians must be kept up to the mark. This is the sublimest tribute which can be borne to the Christian faith.
2. Add to that thought the one which arises out of the endeavour of the seven sons of Sceva to cast out evil spirits. Wherein did they fail? At every point. They came into the ministry in a wrong way; and that is always an explanation of failure of the worst kind. “They took upon them”--that is the explanation. This ministry is not something which a man may elect in preference to something else. The ministry is nothing if it is not a burden, a necessity.
3. The sons of Sceva knew nothing about the Name with which they conjured. Instead of saying, “We adjure you by Jesus Christ whom we love,” they said, “We adjure you by Jesus Christ whom Paul preacheth.” The sacred influence will not pass through such negative or nonconducting connections. That is one of the noblest tributes that can be paid to the dignity of Christianity. There are many persons who would be glad to amalgamate Christianity with something else. But Christianity will not be amalgamated. Christianity wants the world to itself. How much modern meaning there is in “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” There was no doubt about the subject of Paul’s preaching. This is a tribute to the honesty and consistency of Paul. We are urged today to preach the Christ whom the Puritans preached. That exhortation is not without deep meaning; but a man may say to his hearers “I adjure you to serve the Christ whom the Puritans preached,” and they will return the answer of indifference or mockery. A minister may go further and say, “I adjure you by the Christ whom the apostles preached,” and the Word would have no power. A man might go even further and say, “I adjure you by the Christ of the New Testament,” and the nineteenth century would know nothing about such a Christ. How is the Christian to suit his age and arrest it? By preaching the Christ whom his own heart knows and loves. Paul uses an expression which some persons cannot think is in the New Testament. He uses the expression, “my gospel.” Every man has his own hold of the gospel, and he must preach that. If I have to preach a Christ whom another man preached I have to commit a lesson to memory and to be very careful lest I stumble in the verbal recitation; but if I preach a Christ born in my own heart, the hope of glory, living with me day by day, then my whole life must break into eloquence, and men must be constrained to say, “He has been with Jesus and learned of Him.”
4. The answer returned by the evil spirit is the answer which every age will return to professional necromancers and moralists (verses 15, 16). These seven sons of Sceva are living today. Here is one of them. A man who indulges himself in some way and then seeks to exorcise the spirit of intemperance in others. The seven sons of Sceva have seven sisters, and the whole fourteen of them are living today. They are living, for example, in that person who reproves worldliness and practises religious vanity. There is a religious worldliness as well as a worldliness that does not debase the name of religion by calling it in as a qualification. Shall we who have a beam in our eyes be preaching about the mote that is in the eyes of other men? You will hurl the ten commandments at the head without effect if you do not go along with them. The world can laugh even at Christian theology when marked out in abstract propositions, but when theology is incarnated in personal godliness the age will begin to wonder, and may end in prayer. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The seven sons of Sceva--spurious Christianity
Note at the outset--
1. Man’s craving for the supernatural. Under the shadow of Diana superstitions were rife, and priests and miracle workers abounded. Man feels that he has a relation to something deeper than the earth beneath and higher than the sky above him.
2. Accommodation in the work of Christian propagandism. The apostle, on entering Ephesus, meets the tendency of the inhabitants by performing miracles. As Moses met the magicians of Egypt on their own ground, confounding them by the supernatural, so Paul now confronts and confounds the deluded supernaturalists of Ephesus. This extraordinary narrative presents to us a spurious Christianity.
I. As in impious mimicry of the Divine (verse 13, 14). These “exorcists” witnessed the marvels that the apostle had wrought, and they impiously tried their hands at the same. The work they imitated was Divine--
1. In its object. Paul had expelled evil spirits; and this was the grand work of Christianity. Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil.”
2. In its method. Paul accomplished his work in the “name of Jesus Christ.” He never attempted it in his own power. As in the case of these exorcists, a spurious Christianity is ever a mimicry of the Divine. It has two distinctive forms in Christendom--the naturalistic and the ritualistic. Now, a spurious Christianity imitates the Divine both in the object and the method.
II. As the indignant scorn of hell (verse 15). The evil spirit is here spoken of as a person distinct from the man. We may infer, therefore--
1. That hell knows and respects Christ and His true followers. “Jesus I know” (Mark 1:23). He encountered and conquered our leader in the wilderness, and bruised his head upon the Cress. And “Paul I know.” I know he is an earnest and successful preacher of the faith he once endeavoured to destroy. Not a word does this evil spirit say either against Jesus or Paul.
2. That hell despises and avenges religious pretenders. “Who are ye? What right have you to use that wonderful name at which we tremble?” Hell has no respect for its own emissaries. Not only does the evil spirit express its indignation and contempt, but wreaks vengeance on the head of the pretenders (verse 16). This incidents suggests--
III. As Divinely overruled for good (verse 20). The narrative shows three useful results.
1. A popular excitement in favour of the true. “And fear fell on them all.” Much is done for truth when the general mind of the community is excited towards it. There is a sad tendency to run in old ruts, or sleep on the stagnant thoughts of ancestors. Sometimes, as in the case before us, the abominations of a spurious Christianity have so broken forth upon the public mind as to startle it from its slumbers, and to excite it into earnest inquiry after the truth. Witness Popery in the days of Luther.
2. An open profession of Christian faith (verse 18). Like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, they were secret disciples. They had not sufficient moral courage to declare convictions repugnant to popular belief. This event, however, brought them to a crisis.
3. A Conscientious renunciation of evil practices. The force of conscience is seen--
1. That evil spirits are amongst men. Are not men possessed when they live the irrational, immoral, and ungodly?
2. That evil spirits must be expelled. Whoever does it is the philanthropist, the saviour.
3. That evil spirits can only be expelled by genuine faith in the name of Christ. The exorcists failed because they pronounced that name and had no faith in it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. There are powers of demon evil widely diffused and ceaselessly active. Look at--
II. There are expedients formed to counteract and depose them, which only provoke their contempt.
III. Nevertheless, means of resisting them exist which they comprehend and dread. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
Evil spirits in the heart
We are taught here--
I. The reality of Spiritual influences, good and bad.
1. It was believed in Ephesus, and all through the ancient world, and there must have been some foundation for this belief.
2. This fact is demonstrated by the miracles of Christ and His apostles.
II. There is manifest deliverance from the evil power in the name of Christ.
1. Men have tried various expedients in vain.
2. The name of Jesus has never been known to fail.
3. We shall have deliverance as we put ourselves under its protection. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Religion used by those who do not believe in it
The wandering Jews wished to work wonders by the name without being disciples of the person of Jesus, which circumstance furnishes a rebuke--
I. To all who use religion at second hand.
1. How much of mere hearsay there is in the greatest concerns. Jesus is “Jesus whom Mr. So-and-so preaches,” or of whom men have learned in childhood.
2. How much of religion is a matter of proxy.
II. To all who use religion for selfish ends.
1. The politician who makes religion the stalking-horse behind which he aims at other things.
2. The theologian anxious to carry his point.
3. The bigoted sectarian, who will do anything for his religion but live it.
III. To all who try to influence others by a religion which does not influence themselves.
1. Worldly statesmen who use Christianity as a sort of moral police to hold a fretful realm in awe.
2. Ungodly parents who are wishful to keep their children from bad ways.
3. Preachers and teachers from whom the evil spirit is not exorcised.
IV. To all who try to conjure with religion as if it were a sort of magic.
1. People who use the Divine book as though it were a divining book.
2. Mere ritualists and sacramentarians. (H. Osborne.)
1. In all that marvellous history of the conflict between the powers of this world and the world to come contained in the Acts, there is no more striking or instructive passage than this.
2. Rich and luxurious Ephesus was the stronghold of evil; the prince of this world held it as the very centre of his kingdom, and against him God set forth, by the hand of St. Paul, the special might of the Holy Spirit. Here, as upon some conspicuous theatre, the mighty contest raged.
3. Whether the powers of evil knew that in Christ, as the champion of humanity, the great battle must be fought, or whether the instincts of their nature were roused into a trembling energy by His appearance, we know not; but it is clear that about the time of the Advent they exerted an unusual amount of power over the bodies and spirits of men.
4. Against these powers a remedy had been found among the Jews in the use of the name of Jehovah; and so there had sprung up a class of men who professed (and sometimes, it would seem, with success, from our Lord’s words, “By whom do your sons cast them out?”) to counteract the workings of the evil one. And just as Simon Magus perceived the wonderful effect of the laying on of the apostle’s hands, and was led to strive to possess the same power, so was it with these men. Their own employment of the name of Jehovah would make them readily perceive that St. Paul drew his strength from the name of Christ; while their feeble and uncertain success would contrast strongly, in their own eyes, with the surpassing might with which he wrought. And so they were led to look at Christianity mainly as a system of powers against outward evils, and to use it as a means of effecting these wonders to obtain either influence or gain.
5. Now this was the very opposite to the whole course of St. Paul. The essence of Christianity to him was to know Christ and to find peace in Him, and not the power of working miracles. But knowing Christ, he had found power to heal others, as Christ had healed him: he had found Christ first for his own salvation, and then he spoke of what he had found himself; and these powers had come out of themselves.
6. Now look at the contrast. The sons of Sceva, not knowing Christ for their own salvation, His name, in their mouths, only stirred up to a higher flood tide of wrath these spirits of darkness. Instead of being able to curb it through the name of Christ, they were hurried helplessly along by it. The man, in the paroxysm of their working, leapt upon them, so that they “fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
7. This irreverent attempt, with its frightful issue, produced its natural effect upon all those who heard or saw it. These powers could not thus be trifled with. They were not merely matters of wonder, things to use for earthly purposes; they were not the fantastic tricks of a marvel monger, but they were indications of the nearness of the Almighty, with whom it was very fearful to have really to do. And so a searching self-examination sprung up among those upon whom this fear fell, and many became real seekers after Christ.
8. Now these events were no accidental peculiarities of that time; they point to a deep and an abiding evil inclination of men’s hearts. Let us, therefore, ask ourselves this question, Are we free from this evil typified in these sons of Sceva, the essence of whose sin was using the name of Christ as a means of obtaining power, instead of seeking to know Christ for themselves as the Healer and portion of their own souls?
I. Take its plainest exhibition: how do they differ from them who in the ministry of Christ’s Church seek, without knowing Christ for themselves, to wield as to others the powers of the kingdom of His grace? Surely in those who seek to minister that gospel, of which they do not partake, the fearful character of the sons of Sceva is plain enough to everyone amongst us.
II. Look at the broad features of our own national and political life and see if we may not see the working of this evil. Are there not whole bodies of men manifestly without any governing principles of religion for themselves, yet believe Christianity so far as to think it an excellent thing for governing a nation, and preserving it in social order and in political quiet? And what is written, in broad characters, as the result of this but the same discomfiture?--for what more certainly tends to spread a universal infidelity than this unreal spirit of Christianity?--as if it were something good for others, but something which has no internal reality for ourselves.
III. If this evil is plainly to be read in the features of our public life, is our private life much more free from it? Are there not heads of families who think Christianity an excellent thing because it will keep their families respectable? Are there not masters who wish their servants to be religious enough to be good servants, but who know nothing themselves of Christ and of His salvation? And must not the effect of all this be a very shameful discomfiture now, just as it was of old? You only stir up evil that you cannot deal with. Servants, children, they see through all this. How do the rebellious appetites and sinful vanities of your children, as they grow up, laugh to scorn this ineffective and unmeaning resistance to their sway! And then this unreality brings a deadly wound upon themselves. We get so used to all the wonders of redemption, that nothing affects us. To such everything is a trick to play, and not a verity to be realised.
IV. And there is a form of this evil still more subtle, when a man calls all these powers over himself, and not upon other people--when he seeks to heal certain great evils in his own character. How many a man is seeking for the self-command, the courtesy, the intellectual power, or the power of influencing others, which Christianity bestows, for themselves; not seeking to know that his name is written in the book of life, and then knowing that the evil spirit will be subject to him, but seeking to have the evil spirit subject to him for itself, instead of seeking that he may know Christ. What is this but a man calling over his own spirit the name of a Saviour that he does not know? And so this man, too, becomes the sport of the enemy. Sometimes through mighty moral storms, which break in upon him, just when he thinks that he has become decent, some old temptation breaks out upon him, and hurries him away into open iniquity Sometimes there is a mysterious spiritual working in the man, and he becomes a mere empty formalist; or perhaps he sinks into the depths of despair, because he gets a perception that there is no reality, after all, in this work that he thought was going on within him. Conclusion: Now if these dangers are so common, what is the cure of them? Rest contented with nothing short of knowing Christ for yourself, as Him who is working salvation for you and in you. And then seek to use the powers which He thus gives you, as one who has his mission from Christ. And then, lastly, spend yourselves in working for Him. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
A devil’s estimate of character
I. Christ’s character is studied by evil spirits. “Jesus I know.”
1. Their attention would be excited by the prophecies respecting an illustrious One destined to put their forces to the rout.
2. They soon identified Christ as the predicted conqueror.
3. They knew Him by the reverses they suffered through His passion.
II. Virtue is respectable and vice despicable, even in hell. “Jesus I know,” etc.
III. Artifice cannot charm the devil out of humanity.
1. Satanic power yields only to Omnipotence.
2. Satan scorns exorcists, of whatever arts.
IV. God employs devils to humble the arrogance of wickedness. (J. A. Macdonald.)
A devil’s confession
The work of these vagabond Jews was apparently sheer imposture. Only God, or those commissioned by Him, could cast out devils; and it is quite evident that the sons of Sceva had no such commission. No doubt, by the use of some occult means, they had been successful in allaying some of the symptoms of demoniacal possession; but that their work was a comparative failure in their own estimation is shown by their desire to imitate the success of Paul. And while they were prosecuting their task, the devil was content to leave them alone, inasmuch as they were doing his work as the deluder of men. But as soon as they seriously attempted to do the real thing by the use of a name which on other lips was potent, and thus to make inroads on the devil’s kingdom, the devil felt it was time to interfere. Their folly lay in the supposition that they could cast out Satan by Satan, and that he would allow them to do so. The devil, on whom the experiment was made, confessed--
I. Acknowledgment of Christ. “Jesus I acknowledge.” The word implies the knowledge which produces emotion. What this was it is easy to say.
1. Fear. This was produced--
2. Reverence and subjection (Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 6:41; Luke 8:28). He knew too well the might of that terrible name not to respect it, and not to feel that he was impotent against its spell.
II. Acquaintance with Paul. “Paul I am acquainted with.” He had full reason to be.
1. Paul was once possessed with a devil himself, and did the devil’s work well. And past experience of the efforts of so valuable a servant led Satan to strive to enslave him again (2 Corinthians 12:7 was written soon after this, and may refer to his Ephesian experience).
2. Paul was the devil’s most powerful and victorious opponent. It was his success that led to the change of tactics on the part of Satan’s own emissaries.
III. Contempt for them. “Who are ye?” This has now passed into a current phrase for expressing the utmost scorn. “Who are you?” is sufficient to cover a man with confusion. “Who are ye that ye should dare to work without our authority and against our dominion, and purely for your own ends.” This estimate of hell and its own devotees is not without significance. Conclusion: In view of all this--
1. Let the Christian--
2. Let the impostor learn--
And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
The right confession
I. Its root: faith.
II. Its motive: repentance.
III. Its fruit: obedience. (K. Gerok.)
“And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds,” etc. (Acts 19:18-19). This text proves the power of the gospel in the conversion of these “exorcists.” The gospel is the greatest power on earth. The gospel alone acts on the heart to change it and renew the man after the image of God. And this is accomplished without any earthly weapon.
I. The nature of conversion. It is not conviction. A man may be convinced and yet carry his “bosom sin” with him unto the end of life; but conversion implies an inward change, so that sin is cast away as our most bitter enemy. Conversion does not change the original faculties of the soul. Whether a man be of a sanguine nature, or cool and calculative, it does not change Otis, but sanctifies the whole man for the service of Christ. Balaam was convinced but not converted.
II. The signs of true conversion. Anxious people often ask, “How can I know that I am converted?” Our Saviour answers this, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
1. By a spirit of prayerfulness. Christ said of Saul, after his conversion, “Behold he prayeth.”
2. By joining in Christian fellowship. “Like seeks like,” “similar natures meet.” If a man is converted he will seek the fellowship of Christians.
III. The necessity of conversion. It is necessary--
1. In order to be happy.
2. In order to be useful in Christ’s vineyard.
3. In order to attain heaven at last. (F. Samuel.)
Christianity: nominal and real
I. The nominal Christian--
1. Believes. These Ephesians, like many in the midst of heathendom today, were convinced of the errors of paganism and the truth of Christianity, but no more. And in the midst of Christendom multitudes are believers simply in the sense of accepting the facts and doctrines of the gospel as Divine.
2. Professes, or no one would know that he is a believer. Not indeed voluntarily, except that he does many things that real Christians do--goes to Church, and perhaps to the sacrament. If asked, he says without hesitation that he is a Christian.
3. But this faith and profession are merely superficial, and cover an unrenewed heart and an inconsistent life. The concealment is sometimes successful, and many a nominal Christian passes for a real one, as here apparently--for these Ephesians had to “show” their deeds. But the covering is very thin and may frequently be seen through by men, and always by God.
II. The nominal Christian becoming real.
1. By a heart faith. The fact of their coming shows that their believing had become a far deeper and more influential act than intellectual assent. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
2. By confession of the fact of sin instead of the profession of the fiction of Christianity. “With the mouth confession is made of salvation,” and the confessor thereby evinces his desire for the real thing instead of the sham.
3. By self-exposure of the real state of heart and life. They “shewed their deeds.” This was--
III. The real Christian--
1. Believes. But instead of merely assenting to the generally received doctrine, having refused a saving trust in Christ, he now lives by faith.
2. He confesses Christ instead of professing an adherence to the Christian religion.
3. He shows his deeds which are in conformity with his faith and confession. (J. W. Burn.)
Many of them also which used curious arts.--
The curious arts
(Sermon to business men.) All religions have their mysteries, and the worship of Mammon is no exception to this rule. Perhaps it would require a hierophant of Mammon to set forth properly the mysteries of this most mysterious of arts, which are quite as curious as any of the arts of ancient necromancy, or any of the mysteries of the ancient Greeks or Romans. The effect of those mysteries must have been disastrous upon the ancient worship, for, for a man to know that he was living by chicanery and deceit was for him to lose his own self-respect. In every age of the world’s history, society has had no worse foe than a habitual humbug’. It is not an uncommon thing to talk about the humbugs of religion. I am not sure that it might not properly be a more common thing for Christian men to speak about the humbugs of commerce.
I. What shall we say about these curious arts?
1. It is coming to be regarded as a natural thing that there should be an unnatural and untruthful inflation of the market at one time, and then an equally unnatural and untruthful depression at another time; and men who call themselves business men actually lay themselves out to produce such artificial conditions. In other words, this is nothing more or less than a fashionable and a gentleman-like way of picking pockets. There are many men who steal besides those that pick pockets in the street. When a man induces a false conviction with regard to the value of an article, or depreciates it with a view to his own emolument, what is he doing? He is lying; and is making a confession that he is not a business man, because he cannot trust himself to do business with his compeers in commercial life on honourable terms.
2. Another curious art is practised by those most obliging persons who sell goods under cost price. And then, when you look behind the scenes and enter the secret arcanum of this god Mammon, and ask how it is possible, you make the discovery that it is in order that Mr. Smith may undersell Mr. Jones, so that when Jones is got out of the way, Smith can run up his prices to whatever he pleases. And this clever trick is called business. Endeavour to present to yourselves the moral condition of a man who deliberately plots the commercial overthrow of an honester man than himself, in order that he may get the trade that would naturally flow into that man’s hands. No man can worship a god without running the risk of becoming as bad as the god he worships. “They that make them are like unto them.”
3. It seems to me a very curious thing that in the same place the same article should be sold at half-a-dozen different prices. “Will you buy some tea of me?” said a commercial traveller to an old friend who kept a small shop. “Oh,” he said, “thank you, but I can’t do it, sir; I buy all my tea at one place and at one price.” “But,” said the other, “I see here marked up in your window all sorts of different prices. Surely there must be different kinds of tea.” “Not a bit, my dear sir. I buy all my tea in the lump, at one and eightpence a pound, and then I put my tickets on it, and some passes for four-shilling tea, some for three and sixpence, and some for three shillings, and everybody is satisfied.” Ingenious trick, isn’t it? Quite worthy of those ancient necromancers and their wonderful books of mystery.
II. I wonder what all these tricks look like in the eyes of him before whom we are all going to stand by and by? No, I don’t think I wonder at all. Ah! is He gazing down upon man whom He has made in His own image, in order that He may raise him to Himself, and sees man stooping to this degraded condition? How the heart of the great Father must bleed and must needs yearn over us as He sees this deteriorating process going still forward in men whose business, instead of being a blessing to them, is their bane.
III. Our text brings before us a very remarkable transaction. I wish I could see it emulated in modern commerce. Some of the Ephesians were pursuing their commercial career and making money out of it. There comes into the town of Ephesus a stranger. This stranger preaches a new God, who is going to be the Judge of quick and dead, and that He offers Himself as the Saviour of all who will have Him. This stranger proclaims a higher morality, and tells the people that they will be better without their sins. And as the result of it, these professional men who had been making very large sums of money out of their books, made a great bonfire of them. Men of business, choose between your curious arts and your souls.
IV. What is it that enables these men to take this decisive measure? “Many of them that believed.” They had found something better than the chicaneries of deceit, and hence they were content to renounce the hidden things of darkness, because there is something better than the hidden things of darkness--the open things of light, In the conscious apprehension of the one, they were content to turn their backs upon the other. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Brought their books together and burned them.
Works meet for repentance
I. No man who desires to turn away from an evil course is wise who does not act with instantaneous and decisive energy. A man who has been in a career of passionate wickedness ought of all men to understand that “deliberation” is unwholesome. There are some things which are helped by reflection; but what would you think of a man who, if his house was on fire, should sit down and say, “Well, let me consider it”? And there is no fire like that which breaks out in a man’s corrupt nature.
II. When men forsake sin, they ought to break every bridge behind them. After a man is once across the Red Sea, farewell Egypt forever. A man that has been overtaken by great sins ought to create an enmity between himself and those sins, so that there shall be no danger of their ever again coming together. Men who have committed themselves to goodness, should come out earnestly, publicly, and instantly, and “show their hand.” There is no middle course that is safe--certainly none that is manly. What would you think of a gambler, who, having repented, should store away his instruments, saying, “I do not intend to touch these things again; but still, the time may come when I shall think differently; and I will keep them”? And yet a great many people keep their old sins warm, while they go to try on virtue, and see if they like it. Such a reformation as this is a sham.
III. Where men have been involved in very guilty and great sins, they owe something more to religion than merely to change from sin to virtue.
1. There is often the necessity of reparation. A man may have wronged a fellow man by his tongue; and it is necessary, if he is going to be a Christian, that that shall be all repaired. A man may have a quarrel, that quarrel must come to an end. A man may be high and obstinate; he must come down and confess, “I was wrong, and I give up the transgression wholly.” It may be that a man has been living on illgotten gains. No matter if it makes a beggar of him, he must make reparation, and give them up.
IV. Repentance in different men must be a very different thing. Although it is, generally speaking, turning from sin to righteousness, yet this is a very different thing in different persons, as we see (Luke 3:1-38) and its effects from John’s preaching. When men repent, the sign of repentance will be according to the way in which they have been sinning. For instance, if a returned pirate should present himself to me for admission to my Church, I should demand of him a very different confession of sin from that which I should demand from an ordinary moral man. (H. W. Beecher.)
Books and pictures
1. One of the wants of the cities of this country is a great bonfire of bad books and newspapers. The printing press is the mightiest agency on earth for good and for evil. I believe that the greatest scourge that has ever come upon this nation has been that of unclean journalism. The London plague was nothing to it. That counted its victims by thousands, but this modern pest has already shovelled its millions into the charnel house of the morally dead.
2. What books and newspapers shall we read? Shall our minds be the receptacle of everything that an author has a mind to write? Shall there be no distinction between the tree of life and the tree of death? Standing, as we do, chin deep in fictitious literature, the first question that many of the young people are asking me is, “Shall we read novels?” I reply, There are novels that are pure, good, Christian, elevating to the heart and ennobling to the life. But I believe that ninety-nine out of one hundred are destructive to the last degree. Stand aloof from all books--
I. That give false: pictures of human life. If you depended upon much of the literature of the day, you would get the idea that life, instead of being something earnest, practical, is a fitful and fantastic and extravagant thing. A man who gives himself up to the indiscriminate reading of novels will be nerveless, inane, and a nuisance. He will be fit neither for the store, nor the shop, nor the field. A woman who gives herself up to the indiscriminate reading of novels will be unfitted for the duties of wife, mother, sister, daughter.
II. Which, while they have some good things about them, have also an admixture of evil. You have read books that had the two elements in them--the good and the bad. Which stuck to you? The bad! The heart of most people is like a sieve, which lets the small particles of gold fall through, but keeps the great cinders. Once in a while there is a mind like a loadstone, which, plunged amid steel and brass filings, gathers up the steel and repels the brass. But it is generally just the opposite. If you attempt to plunge through a hedge of burrs to get one blackberry, you will get more burrs than blackberries. You cannot afford to read a bad book, however good you are. Alas, if through curiosity, as many do, you pry into an evil book, your curiosity is as dangerous as that of the man who should take a torch into a gunpowdermill merely to see whether it would really blow up or not.
III. Which corrupt the imagination and inflame the passions. Today, under the nostrils of your city, there is a fetid, reeking, unwashed literature, enough to poison all the fountains of public virtue.
IV. Which are apologetic of crime. It is a sad thing that some of the best and most beautiful book bindery, and some of the finest rhetoric, has been brought to make sin attractive. Vice is a horrible thing. Do not paint it as looking from behind embroidered curtains, or through lattice of royal seraglio, but as writhing in the agonies of a city hospital. Cursed be the books that try to make impurity decent, and crime attractive, and hypocrisy noble! Cursed be the books that swarm with libertines and desperadoes, who make the brain of the young people whirl with villainy! Ye authors who write them, ye publishers who print them, ye booksellers who distribute them, though you may escape in this world, those whom you have destroyed will come around to torment you, and to pour hotter coals of fury upon your head, and rejoice eternally in the outcry of your pain and the howl of your damnation.
V. The lascivious pictorial literature of the day is most tremendous for ruin. These death warrants of the soul are at every street corner. There may be enough poison in one bad picture to poison one soul, and that soul may poison ten, and ten fifty, and the fifty hundreds, and the hundreds thousands, until nothing but the measuring line of eternity can tell the height, and depth, and ghastliness, and horror of the great undoing. At a newsstand one can guess the character of a man by the kind of:pictorial he purchases. Whern the devil fails to get a man to read a bad book, he sometimes succeeds in getting him to look at a bad picture.
VI. Cherish good books and newspapers. Beware of the bad ones. One column may save your soul; one paragraph may ruin it. Benjamin Franklin said that the reading of “Cotton Mather’s Essay on Doing Good” moulded his entire life. The assassin of Lord Russell declared that he was led into crime by reading one vicious romance. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The bonfire at Ephesus
1. It was the burning up of books. There has been a good deal of that in history. People have been very fond of burning books, but they have been as a rule other people’s books--not their own.
2. These people burnt their own books. Now, I suppose you have seen some books burned by the owner when they have been of no value. But that was not the reason why these people burnt their books.
3. They burnt costly books. Dean Alford, I think, tells us these must have been worth about £1,750, and Dean Howson says that they must have cost about £2,000.
4. They burnt them because they had found that they were all false. More than that--for I have no doubt they had found that out before now--they had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and become His disciples, and felt that they could not be both Christians and soothsayers. They must, as disciples of Christ, do away with their old evil habits, and burn their old books.
5. They burnt them openly--“in the sight of all.” But why did they not burn them quietly, on their own hearths at home? Now, some of us would have done that, so that nobody might laugh at us, and especially that nobody we had deceived might get very angry, and say, “I have been paying you so much money for what turns out to be a mere sham.” Observe that Luke tells that “some” did this. I have no doubt that there were others facing both ways, who tried to keep the books and at the same time to be Christians.
6. In conclusion, the people did all promptly and thoroughly. They did not hesitate, or stop short, until every book was burnt. They were in right earnest. Now, I have talked about all this in order just to bring a simple lesson home to you. No doubt you, too, have something to burn for the sake of Jesus Christ. Surely many of you profess to love Him. He exclaims to you, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” But if you keep His commandments you have lots of little things to burn up. It may be some nasty little habit. Give up that lazy disposition, or the Lord Jesus will not own you. There are plenty of hypocrites in the world who pretend to be Christ’s, and yet cling to their old sinful lives. Now I have no doubt you will say that Ephesus would be much poorer in books after this burning. No. Ephesus was far richer in books after this than ever it was before. Let us see. There was the Eplisle of Paul to the Ephesians; again there were the writings of John the Beloved. All these were given to Ephesus in return for the bad books which were burnt there. God always makes up for the losses we incur by seeking to please Him. And every act of this sort not only blesses us, but also others who see it. (D. Davies.)
The guilt and danger of reading bad books
(Text and Proverbs 19:27):--The oldest library we know of in history bore on its front this inscription, “Food for the Mind.” This is what books were designed to be; and it is only when they bear this character that they can be used with safety. Let us note:--
I. Some classes of books which are sources of corruption.
1. Those that wage open warfare against religion. Many of this class are written with ability, are specious, misleading, and almost sure to corrupt religious principles, and fill the heart with bitterness.
2. The licentious and impure. While not written with the same avowed design, they are more hurtful to society. Some of this class are the vehicles of grossest impurity; others, like the sheet let down before Peter, are full of all manner of beasts, but the unclean prevail. Genius is perverted from its high office. Fielding, Smeller, Sterne, Moore, Byron are proud names in the literary annals of the world; but instead of “food for the mind” they but minister poison to the heart.
3. Works of imagination and fiction. In this we include novels and plays. Not all of them, for some of this class are pure and good. But the mass of them fail to beget hatred of sin and love of virtue. They inflame evil passions, vitiate true tastes, corrupt sound morals, and create false, pernicious ideals and types of life.
II. How these several classes of books work such evil.
1. They waste much precious time.
2. They create a disrelish for serious reading. Good and pure and truthful books become insipid, dull, intolerable to the constant readers of such classes as we have condemned.
3. They inevitably undermine the principles of morality, individual and social, and thereby corrupt the fountain of virtue.
4. They war against the spiritual interest of the soul, and thereby destroy for eternity as well as for time.
Conclusion: Our subject--
1. Furnishes a solemn rebuke to those who, for paltry gain, write, print and sell such works, which they know are adapted to waste the time, pervert the tastes, corrupt the morals and ruin the souls of men.
2. Solemnly urges upon parents and instructors of youth the duty of seeing that they are amply supplied with proper “food for the mind,” and never indulge in such as tends to corrupt and destroy. (M. W. Dwight, D. D.)
The evils of improper books
I. The classes of books which are pernicious. Those that--
1. Assail the truth of Christianity.
2. Oppose its holiness.
3. Destroy its temper.
II. The danger which attends the indisciriminate use of such books arises from the fact that--
1. The human mind is naturally sceptical.
2. The human heart naturally licentious.
3. The human temper naturally trifling. (J. Blackburn.)
A bookseller’s sacrifice
Some years before the Revolution, a lady bookseller at Paris, attracted by the reputation of Father Beauvegard, went to Notre Dame to hear him. His discourse was particularly levelled against irreligious books, and the lady had cause enough to reproach herself on that scale, having been in the habit of selling many publications which were contrary to good manners and to religion. Interest had blinded her; but, penetrated by the sermon, she could no longer doubt that impious and licentious books are a dreadful source of poison to the heart; and she was compelled to acknowledge that those who print, or sell, or contribute to circulate them in any way whatever, are so many public poisoners, whom God will one day call to account for the evil they occasion. Impressed with these sentiments, she went to the preacher, and, with tears in her eyes, she said to him, “You have rendered me a great service by giving me to see how culpable I have been in selling many impious books, and I entreat you to finish the good work you have begun by taking the trouble to come to my warehouse to examine all the books which are in it, and to put aside all those which may be injurious to morals or religion. I had rather be deprived of a part of my property than consent to lose my soul.” Accordingly Father Beauvegard paid her a visit next day, and when he had separated the good books from the bad, she cast the latter, one after another, into a great fire she had taken care to provide. The price of the works thus consumed amounted, it is said, to about six thousand livres. She made the sacrifice without regret, and from that time endeavoured to sell no books but what might tend to counteract the evil done by the others. How many persons will “go and do likewise”?
The burning at Ephesus
Is such a burning suitable for the present day? Yes; but only--
I. For the proper books.
1. These are not works of exact science, noble poetry, or human law.
2. They are the pernicious fugitive pieces of a frivolous superficial knowledge, the seductive works of an impure light literature, and the arrogant decrees of an anti-Christian tyranny of the conscience.
II. With the proper fire.
1. This is not the gloomy glow of a narrow puritanism, nor the sullen fire of a condemnatory fanaticism, nor the incendiary torch of a revolution.
2. This is the holy fire of a repentance which thinks especially of its sins and wants; of a love to the Lord, which joyfully sacrifices to Him whatever is most costly; and of a zeal for God’s house which desires nothing else than that His Kingdom may come, as in churches, houses and hearts, so also in the state, arts and sciences. (K. Gerok.)
Deeds, not words, are the proofs of a man’s sincerity. We may say what we will, and make what profession we will; but it is our conduct that must stamp the true value both upon what we say and what we profess. In this passage we have an account of a conversion, which, from the circumstances attending it, we have good reason to believe was real. “And fear fell on them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” This was the effect generally. People stood in awe of a religion which was attested by such evident tokens of Divine power, and were disposed to believe that there was something in what was told them of Christianity and its Founder. Thus far, however, people: may go, and often do go, without experiencing any real saving change in themselves. They have a sort of respect for religion; they would not slight it; but there they stop: they do not suffer it to take hold of their hearts. So, no doubt, it was at Ephesus with numbers. But it was not so with all. Many there were, who, as far as we have the means of judging, were savingly converted by what they heard and saw. They “believed, and came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.” See here the proofs which these men gave of the sincerity of their conversion.
I. It is said, “They believed”--they believed the gospel which St. Paul preached, and, believing this, they betook themselves to Jesus, that they might be saved by Him. But we cannot betake ourselves to Jesus except we first renounce and forsake those ways and practices which are contrary to Him. This, then, these Ephesians did. They came to the apostle, and confessed their sins, and showed their evil deeds. They did not attempt to excuse themselves, to put a better face upon their past life than it deserved. And this everyone must do who would turn to God in good earnest. Remember, then, that confession is one of the very first steps to be taken, if we would obtain forgiveness and enjoy the blessing of a conscience at peace with God and at peace with itself. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Ordinarily we do best to begin with confession. And, no doubt, besides the greater and more heinous sins of our lives, which we have good need to acknowledge with shame, and as the Christian does come short hourly of that standard at which he aims, so it is his wisdom as; well as his duty to confess his shortcomings as minutely and particularly as he can. A man may confess in a general way that he is a sinner, and yet blind his eyes to this or that particular sin to which he is addicted, and so continue in it for all his confession. And this shows the importance of self-examination, as at other times, so especially before our set prayers. But, after all, even confession is not enough. It is, too, possible for a man to confess his sins and yet for all this to continue in his sins. In fact the confession may be used as a sort of cloak, by which a man persuades himself that he is penitent. These Ephesian converts not only confessed their sins, but they forsook them; nay, they not only forsook them, but they put away from them the occasions which led to them, and the instruments by which they practised them. And to show that it was no cheap sacrifice which they were making, the value of them, it was found, was no less than fifty thousand pieces of silver. Well, indeed, might the sacred writer add, after giving this account, “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.” It was a very strong testimony indeed to the sincerity of these converts, and to the power with which the Word of God had laid hold of them. Their conduct was an open confession of the change which had taken place in their views and feelings. But, further, the burning of their books shows the resolution which the Ephesian converts had formed never to return to the use of those arts again to which the books ministered. They had no misgivings in their minds; as though, after all, they might possibly at some future time take a different view of their former course and of the religion they had adopted from what they now did. Their minds were made up. Nor was this all. As far as in them lay they cut off the possibility of a return. It is said of a great captain of former times, that on one occasion when he went with his army to make war upon an enemy’s country, he set fire to his ships as soon as his army was landed, that both he and they might feel that nothing was left for them but to conquer. They were not even to think of flight or escape. So did these Ephesians by their “curious arts.” And in this respect, too, every sincere and earnest convert will tread in their steps. As far as in him lies he will cut off from himself the possibility of a return to his former courses. The things which used to minister to his evil practices he will as much as possible put away from him. If he was given to drunkenness, he will keep out of the way of those places and those companions which used to lead him on to that sin. If bad books or other writings were a cause of stumbling to him, putting into his mind bad thoughts and bad desires, he will put these from him for the future. But someone might have whispered to these Ephesians, “Why burn the books, after all? They cost a great deal of money. Is it not a pity to destroy them? If you do not want them, others may be glad of them, and glad to buy them of you. And, if they take damage in consequence, that is their look-out, not yours. Besides, if they do not get your books, they will most likely get others.” But these good men did not allow any such thought to weigh with them. The books were bad books; they would not leave the possibility of their doing further mischief. They had done mischief enough already. People might remind them of the money which they paid for them, and tell them that at any rate it would be enough to lay them by. But they will feel that the true course is to put it out of their power to do further mischief.
II. Are we following Christ with like sincerity? Are we forsaking and casting away whatever in former times led us astray from God, or served as an instrument of sin? Have we allowed ourselves in anything which God’s Word forbids? I know how men are apt to plead for some of these things; how they say, “We cannot, circumstanced as we are, give them up. We have been used to them all our lives. Our living and maintenance depend upon them. If we give them up, yet others will still carry them on. We must trust in God’s mercy, and hope that He will make allowance for us.” But, no: whoever reasons thus, and casts about for excuses to justify himself in continuing in a course of sin, does by that very fact show that his heart is not right with God. He is not following the Lord fully. God will not own him, let him speak as he will of his faith, and make what profession he will. As Christians we are to give up everything that is contrary to God’s law. However dear it may be to us, yea, though it be as a right hand, it is to be cut off, or as a right eye, it is to be plucked out: God can and will make amends for it. (C. A. Heurtley, D. D.)
The preaching that is needed
One thing I have against the clergy, both of the country and in the towns. I think they are not severe enough on their congregations. They do not sufficiently lay upon the souls and consciences of their hearers their moral obligations, and probe their hearts and bring up their whole lives and action to the bar of conscience. The class of sermons which I think are most needed are of the class which offended Lord Melbourne long ago. Lord Melbourne was one day seen coming from church in the country in a mighty fume. Finding a friend, he exclaimed, “It is too bad. I have always been a supporter of the Church, and I have always upheld the clergy. But it is really too bad to have to listen to a sermon like that we have had this morning. Why, the preacher actually insisted upon applying religion to a man’s private life!” But that is the kind of preaching which I like best, the kind of preaching men need most, but it is, also, the kind of which they get the least. (W. E. Gladstone.)
Value of a sermon
The value of a sermon consists not half so much in apprehending the method of it, or remembering its form and letter, as in the moral impression it produces on the heart, and by which it takes effect in the life. Just as the effect of art is more than the method of art, so the effect of preaching is more than all its methods. I have heard of a minister who, having a congregation composed chiefly of shopkeepers, and having his doubts that some of these were not so accurate in the matter of weights and scales and measures as they should have been, preached a sermon from the text, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” The sermon was much admired by all, but a few days after, when some half-dozen of the congregation were discussing its merits, some of them clearly remembering its heads, divisions, and subdivisions, one of them said: “I don’t remember much about the sermon now, but I know this, that after I had heard it I went straight home and burnt my bushel.” (J. W. Lance.)
A fortune consigned to the flames
When recently Captain Burton, the great traveller, died, he left a book in manuscript, which he expected would be his wife’s fortune. He often told her so. He said, “This will make you independent and affluent after I am gone.” He suddenly died, and it was expected that the wife would publish the book. One publisher told her he could himself make out of it 100,000 dollars. But it was a book which, though written with pure scientific design, she felt would do immeasurable damage to public morals. With the two large volumes, which had cost her husband the work of years, she sat down on the floor before the fire, and said to herself, “There is a fortune for me in this book, and, although my husband wrote it with the right motive, and scientific people might be helped by it, to the vast majority of people it would be harmful, and I know it would damage the world.” Then she took apart the manuscript, sheet after sheet, and put it into the fire, until the last line was consumed. Bravo I She flung her livelihood, her home, her chief worldly resources under the best moral and religious interests of the world. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The influence of pernicious books
The boy David Hume was a believer in the Scriptures until he ransacked the works of infidels to prepare for a debate in which he was to take part. It is said of Voltaire that when only five years of age he committed to memory an infidel poem, and was never able after that to undo its pernicious influence upon his mind. Thomas Chambers, an officer of the British Government, says that all the boys brought before the criminal courts can ascribe their downfall to impure reading.
Lasting influence of bad books
I would rather be a murderer than write a bad book. A murderer murders a body once, but the writer of a bad book may murder souls as long as the book lasts. Not long ago an eminent public man said when he was young a companion put a bad book into his hands. He could not tell the harm it had done him. For years after he had reached manhood he had not got rid of the influence of that book. But impure books were not the only bad ones. There were sceptical books that had about them a deadly atmosphere. A man might read himself into scepticism. He would not vouch for the faith of any man who should read for twelve months the writings of Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, and the rest--one side only, never caring to read the arguments that had convinced men quite as able as they, of the truth of the Christian religion. (G. S. Barrett.)
The sorcerer’s sacrifice
I. What a convincing act! The New Testament ever speaks of conversion as a vast change. “Born again,” “turned from darkness to light,” are the uncompromising terms employed. Now, what are the evidences that this has been wrought? Loving what was once hated, and hating what was once loved. Let us discriminate. To abhor and avoid certain transgressions is comparatively easy. Many “Compound for sins they are inclined to, by blaming sins they have no mind to.” The mean man grows eloquent in denouncing extravagance. The good-natured man has small temptation to penuriousness. The man whose animal passions are constitutionally feeble is never in danger of sensuality. A far more searching criterion must be applied. Does the miser loosen his grasp upon his gold? Does the prayerless one abandon his neglect of the mercy seat? Does the victim of vanity become humble and self-abnegating? “What things were gain to me, those counted I loss for Christ.” Paul’s experience is that of every Christian.
II. What a wise act! By burning these books the magicians consulted their own welfare. Had they put them away, resolving to keep them only as mere literary curiosities, they might have been tempted at some future time to return to their old practices. When duty takes us into places and among persons that are spiritually perilous, we need not fear. God will protect us then. Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness”; and left it, unconquered by the Prince of Darkness. But no Divine command or holy impulse moved Achan to the spot where the forbidden treasures lay, hence he was ensnared by them. If we go needlessly into scenes of temptation we must not be surprised if we become its victims. During one stage of his journey, Pilgrim sees a man confined in an iron cage. “I have tempted the devil,” he cries, “and he has come to me.” Quaintly, but impressively, does one say, “Those who would not fall into the river should beware how they approach too near to its banks. He that crushes the egg need not fear the flight of the bird. He who would not drink of the wine of wrath let him not touch the cup of pleasure. He who would not hear the passing bell of eternal death should not finger the rope of sin. A person who carries gunpowder about him can never stand too far from the fire. If we accompany sin one mile, it will compel us to go twain. The fable saith: ‘That the butterfly inquired of the owl how she should do with the candle which had singed her wings. The owl counselled her not so much as to behold the smoke.’ If you hold the stirrup, no wonder Satan gets into the saddle.”
III. What a benevolent act! They were worthy of all praise in burning the books, because, in the course of time, the books might have fallen into the hands of others, and instigated them to sorcery. The lesson is palpable. We should try to keep others from the evil into which we have once been led. Suppose a man obtains his livelihood by occupation which is clearly injurious to society. If converted, his duty is to abandon it.
IV. What a blessed act! Yes, God blessed it. The magicians had a compensation. They burned books for Christ, and they received books from Him--Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, and the letter from the Saviour “to the angel of the Church at Ephesus.” Thus is it always. None serve Christ without rich remuneration. (T. R. Stevenson.)
Sacrifice of unlawful means of gain
Like other grocers, Samuel Budgett, the “Successful Merchant” had been in the habit of adulterating his pepper with some innocent preparation, which he kept in a little barrel labelled P.D.--pepper dust. But as he grew in Christian intelligence his conscience troubled him about the matter, until one night he rose from his bed, went to his store, took the little barrel, and knocked in the ends of it. Is there no P.D. about you? If there be do as Budgett did: Knock it an the head. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Instruments of evil to be destroyed
If property, now applied to a wicked purpose, can be used for a good end--if a house once rented for an immoral employment can be occupied for a business that is moral--if a piece of machinery which has been employed for evil can be used in a lawful avocation--if a vessel used before for piracy or in the slave trade, can be employed in legitimate commerce--if a sword can be beaten into a ploughshare, or a spear into a pruning hook, then principle would not require that these should be destroyed; but if no such lawful use of property can be made, then the principles of Christianity do not allow that it should be transferred to other hands, but that it should be destroyed at once. Christian honesty demands the sacrifice; a Christian conscience would prompt it. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
They counted the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.--The coin referred to was the Attic drachma, usually estimated at about 8½d. of English money, and the total amount answers, accordingly, to £1,770 17s. 6d., as the equivalent in coin. In its purchasing power, as determined by the prevalent rate of wages (a denarius or drachma for a day’s work), it was probably equivalent to a much larger sum. Such books fetched what might be culled “fancy” prices, according to their supposed rareness, or the secrets to which they professed to introduce. Often, it may be, a book was sold as absolutely unique. (Dean Plumptre.)
So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.
The growing and prevailing gospel
1. This is a despatch from the seat of war announcing a glorious victory for the royal arms.
2. Past triumphs of the gospel may be use:! as encouragements.
3. We, too, shall see the Word of God grow and prevail, for--
4. The trophies of victory may be expected to be the same. Men, magic, books, and the love of money shall all be subdued. Let us turn aside to see--
I. The Word of God planted. Planted it was, or it could not have grown. The work proceeded in the following fashion:
1. Certain disciples were further enlightened, aroused, and led to seek a higher degree of grace. This was an admirable beginning, and revivals thus commenced are usually lasting.
2. These became obedient to an ordinance which had been overlooked (Acts 19:5), and also received the Holy Ghost, of whom they had heard nothing: two great helps to revival.
3. A bold ministry proclaimed and defended the truth.
4. Opposition was aroused. This is always a needful sign. God is not at work long without the devil working also.
5. Deceitful counterfeiting commenced, and was speedily ended in the most remarkable manner.
6. Paul preached, pleaded, made the gospel to sound forth, and on departing could say, “I am pure from the blood of all men.” Read this and the following chapter, and see how three years were well spent in planting the Church at Ephesus.
II. The Word of God growing. The measure of it was seen--
1. In a Church formed with many suitable elders.
2. In a neighbourhood fully aware of the presence of the gospel among them, for it touched them practically; so much so, that important trades were affected.
3. In a people converted, and openly confessing their conversion.
4. In a general respect paid to the faith. Even those who did not obey it yet yielded it homage and owned its power. Here we see Paul’s work and God’s work. Paul laboured diligently in planting, and God made it to grow: yet it was all of God. Is the Word of God growing among us? If not, why not? It is a living seed, and should grow. It is a living seed, and will grow unless we hinder it.
III. The Word of God prevailing. Growth arouses opposition; but where the Word grows with inward vitality it prevails over outward opposition. The particular proof of prevalence here given is the burning of magical books.
1. Paul does not appear to have dwelt continually upon the evil habit of using magical arts; but gospel light showed the guilt of witchcraft, and Providence cast contempt on it.
2. The sin being exposed, it was confessed by those who had been guilty of it, and by those who had commenced its study.
3. Being confessed, it was renounced altogether, and, though there was no command to that effect, yet in a voluntary zeal of indignation the books were burned. This was right because--
4. Their destruction involved expense, which was willingly incurred, and that expense gave weight to the testimony.
1. No other proof of power in our ministry will equal that which is seen in its practical effect upon our hearers’ lives.
2. Will you who attend our preaching see to it that you purge yourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The conditions of growth
The phrase of the text, or its equivalent, is found five times in the Acts, and in connection with circumstances which throw considerable light on the laws of Church increase.
I. The baptism of the Spirit (Acts 2:47). The power of the Holy Ghost is the fundamental condition. Without this there can be no life, and therefore no growth. This is the supreme ministerial qualification, and is essential for the conviction and conversion of hearers, and for the constant quickening of the Church.
II. The purification of the Church (Acts 5:14). All the gifts that were poured into the Church treasury might have been vitiated by the presence of Ananias and Sapphira. Achan’s presence troubled Israel, and Jonah’s the mariners, so the Church sometimes suffers through its neglect of discipline. Better to brave the anger of the rich and influential than that the Word of God should be bound.
III. Full consecration to ministerial work (Acts 6:7). We can well believe how the apostles were hampered by undertaking all the minute details of Church administration, and how a progressive impulse would be given when laymen were found work to do. Would that congregations would see how growth is necessarily hindered when ministers are overburdened. Whatever interferes with pulpit efficiency assuredly interferes with the progress of the work of God. A thoughtful and cooperative laity is much to be desired.
IV. Provident interpositions favourable to the Church (chap. 12:24). Peter was miraculously delivered from prison and Herod as miraculously removed. When hindrances are taken away, and gospel agencies liberated, no wonder the “Word of God grows and multiplies.” Providence often interposes now in the opening of hitherto closed doors, and in the liberation of men and money for the work. Yet how often are these interpositions allowed to pass by unheeded! What are our commercial supremacy and colonial extension, the progress of the cause of liberty and toleration on the Continent, the results of travel and enterprise, etc., but so many providential interferences in favour of the gospel?
V. Daring aggression. It was a bold thing to attack Ephesus at all, but encouraged by the capture of an outpost, the apostle marched on the very citadel. Here, as almost everywhere, courage was justified by success. Cautious timidity is the very worst policy with such a resolute foe as the devil, and such a scornful foe as the world. From the time of Paul downwards the Church’s victories have been won by men who did not know what impossibility meant, but who, trusting in God, feared nothing and expected everything. Conclusion: These conditions of growth were all fulfilled here.
1. The baptism of the Spirit (verse 6).
2. The purification of the Church (verse 9).
3. Full ministerial devotion (Acts 20:18-20).
4. Providential interpositions--John’s disciples; the school of Tyrannus. (J. W. Burn.)
Growth of the Word of God
A most remarkable example of the value of free distribution of the Word of God has recently reached my ears. A well-known evangelical minister of Christ lately made a tour in Canada. Arriving at an out-of-the-way village, he found a lively assembly of French Christians, who were walking in the love of God and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. They had their church and school house, and, moreover, a college for the training of the young. At their head was a venerable minister of ninety, his white hair flowing over his shoulders, quite a patriarch in appearance. Surprised to find a flourishing Church in such a place, the visitor inquired by what instrumentality such a work had been brought about. The aged pastor went to his closet and produced a small French Testament, literally worn out. “This,” said he, “was the commencement of the work. More than half a century ago, a lady passing through this place presented me with this little Testament. I was a Roman Catholic, but the perusal of this book, so freely given to me, was the means, through the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, of my regeneration. I was the first convert. I lent it to others, thence followed another’ conversion, and another, until our number has reached three hundred. For years the priest persecuted me, and at length offered a large sum of money if I would give up the Bible, but when he found all his efforts unavailing he desisted; and now we are a happy united community, with our church, our schools, and our college.” Here, then, is an instance of the importance of giving away the Word of God and gospel tracts. Owing to the gift of a small Testament, costing a few pence, one soul was snatched as a brand from the burning, and other converts were gathered in, resulting in a precious work of grace in a remote quarter of Canada. (Cheyne Brady.)
After these things were ended Paul purposed in the spirit.
Characteristics of Christianity
I. A practical beneficence in its spirit. There is distress in Jerusalem. Paul feels that something must be done for its relief. He communicates it to Timotheus and Erastus, and they feel the same; they go to the Churches of Macedonia and Achaia; they feel also, and relief comes as a matter of course. It was not a subject in those days requiring argument and declamation. In the letter which Paul wrote at this time he indicates the order in which the collection should be made, but uses no argument to enforce the duty (1 Corinthians 16:1-9). This is as it should be. True Christians are all members of one spiritual body; and the feeling of one member should be participated in by the whole.
II. An heroic aggressiveness in its disciples. “I must also see Rome.” What for? Merely to see it, in order to gratify curiosity, to study the institutions and habits of a wonderful people, to enrich his experience of life, to increase his acquaintance with men and things? No, but to carry the gospel there. His purpose indicates--
1. That Christianity could stand the scrutiny of the most enlightened people.
2. That no intellectual or social advancement can supersede the necessity of the gospel.
3. That evangelisation should have a special regard to the most influential centres of population.
III. An official authority amongst its minsters. Here are Paul, Timotheus, and Erastus, and there is a manifest subordination. Paul is the superior. He “sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him.” The authority was not legal or prescriptive, but simply moral. In a society where all minds are spiritually pure, the simple wish of the greatest soul is the greatest law.
IV. An incidental argument for its genuineness. In the account which is here given of Paul’s purpose to visit Rome, and that which he gives himself years afterwards, there is one of those undesigned coincidences which constitute an incontrovertible argument for the truth of Christianity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I must … see Rome.--
(to young men):--
I. Paul’s ambition was to see Rome, which meant seeing the world in epitome, and every young man who is worth his salt has a similar desire. This ambition--
1. Was of long standing, perhaps formed at school, and developed by intercourse with Priscilla and Aquila, who had lived in Rome. So doubtless it has been your desire ever since you have heard of life’s prospects and opportunities.
2. Was strong, and strengthened with the lapse of years. Soon after this he leaves Ephesus for Macedonia, where he hopes (2 Corinthians 10:16) to be able to preach the gospel in the regions beyond. Opportunity served, and he stood at Illyricum with the Adriatic between himself and his ambition, as previously he had stood with the AEgean between himself and Macedonia. But this time there was no call for help. Reaching Corinth, he writes to florae, and chaps, 1 and 16 show how strong his ambition had become. And so your ambition, so far from being weakened by disappointment, has grown deeper with every rebuff.
3. Natural. Consider what Rome was. The mistress of the world: the centre of the most potent civilisation the world has ever known. Even in its ruin nine educated men out of every ten hope to see it before they die. What, then, must Paul, a cultured gentleman of the first century, and withal a Roman citizen, have felt when it was in all its glory? And so it is natural that you should wish to see life, to know something of its business, to influence by speech and vote its politics and to contribute to its thought.
4. Was sanctioned by God. Generally at his conversion, more definitely just before his first missionary journey (Acts 22:21), but the direct sanction was delayed till, strange to say, he was imprisoned at Jerusalem (Acts 23:11), nor was it confirmed until near its actual realisation (Acts 27:24). Twice in his Epistle does he say that it was subordinate to God’s will. So it was not mere human craving; what was human in it was by God’s approval, and Paul’s self- restraint, made Divine. So it is not God’s will, perhaps, that you should move in a narrow sphere. Like Paul, make your ambition a matter of earnest prayer, both as to the time and to the method of its achievement.
5. Was subordinated to present duty. He had obligations to discharge in the shape of apostolic visitation, and the collection of funds for the poor, all which was indirectly helpful to the alternate realisation of his wish. Let no young man be in a hurry. An object gained prematurely, and without fitness to handle it, becomes a curse rather than a blessing.
6. Was achieved in an apparently roundabout way. Paul little thought that the path to Rome lay through Jerusalem. “God moves in a mysterious way,” and that way is always the nearest, although we may attempt “short cuts.” And see to it that you take Jerusalem on your way, and, like Paul, identify yourself with the Church. Life is a perilous place without the fear of God, a pronounced profession, and religious associates.
II. Paul’s motives. Yours, of course, cannot be quite as simple. But there is nothing wrong in seeking personal gain provided something higher is contemplated with and through this. Paul wanted to see Rome that he might--
1. Preach the gospel there. How much this was necessary we see from Romans 1:1-32; how much it is still necessary we know. Look, then, upon life as affording an opportunity for testimony for God. Don’t be ashamed of your mother’s religion in the warehouse or the barracks. Paul was not ashamed of it in wicked, scoffing, cruel Rome.
2. Impart some spiritual gift (Romans 1:11). Act as salt in this corrupt world. Impart to business the spiritual gifts of genuineness and honesty; to literature cleanness and truth; to politics righteousness and the golden role.
3. Fell upon a wider world (Romans 15:24). He felt that if he could regulate the pulsations, and cleanse the diseases of that great heart, a new life current would flow through the world’s moral veins. Occupy every new centre as a means of wider usefulness. You will become an employer--let your influence be felt by your employes; you will marry--set up a family altar; when you join a Church don’t be a useless log in it.
III. Paul’s realisations. He saw Rome--but as a prisoner. And there are disappointing circumstances connected with the realisation of the loftiest human ambition. Life will not be all that you expect. You may win station, wealth, and fame, but you will win a cross as well. Did. Paul repine? No.
1. He accepted the circumstances as ordained of God.
2. He regarded them as most favourable for the accomplishment of his supreme desire. Paul might have preached in synagogue or public hall for many years without exerting a tithe of the influence which his military jailers, to whom he spoke one by one, carried through the city (Philippians 1:12-13; Philippians 4:22).
3. He utilised his enforced leisure in a correspondence which has ever since been amongst the foremost moral forces of the world. Conclusion: Your ambition is to see life. With Christ this ambition is perfectly safe, and the result, though disappointing in some respects, will be of the most glorious character; without Christ the whole result will be disaster, for “what shall it profit a man,” etc. (J. W. Burn.)
Context of the passage. This has been evidently for a long time in the apostle’s mind. Some months, possibly eighteen months, later it is repeated in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:13-15; Romans 15:23-28). It no doubt first took root some six or seven years before, when he worked in the workshop of Aquila and. Priscilla at Corinth. These (Aquila and Priscilla) had come, we know, straight from Rome; and no doubt the glowing account which these devoted friends of his had given Paul, of the little Christian colony of Rome, their stories of the mighty city, of the perpetual influx of strangers, of the freedom which a great capital always affords for the dissemination of new ideas, of the influence which anything emanating from Rome would probably have on provincial cities--all these determined Paul eventually to go to Rome, and perhaps make it his headquarters.
1. This Roman journey and work no doubt for years entered into Paul’s prayers. With each year the purpose evidently grew more intense. The work could never be complete till a Pauline Church flourished at Rome. It was well that his great doctrine of free salvation to all men--to Gentile equally with the Jew--should be accepted in Macedonia, in Corinth, in the wealthy Asian cities like Ephesus and. Colesse, in luxurious, pleasure loving, Syrian Antioch. But to be a doctrine of the world it must be received at Rome, the new Jerusalem of the Christian world.
2. And Paul’s prayer was granted. The long “agony” and wrestling with the Holy Spirit was successful. The Lord heard His servant’s wish. Paul found himself at Rome; but how, in what position? He dreamed of the warm welcome from the poor but devoted Christians of the Suburra quarter across the Tiber, of the secret support of many a noble Roman lady, of many a patrician who had heard of him from the Chamberlain of Corinth, the Asiarch of Ephesus, possibly from a Sergius Paulus or a Gallio; but what was the reality? He found himself at Rome; but a prisoner, guarded, chained to a soldier; perhaps with a weary captivity, with a life-long slavery in the mines, perhaps with a cruel, violent death before him. These things were Paul’s lot in the queen city. But his life dream was realised. He saw Rome, but disappointed. His earnest prayer granted, his life wishes realised, but all so altered with him. Let me anticipate some of the lessons I mean to draw. Many a one of us win our heart’s desire, and find it so different to what we hoped, dreamed of, longed for. The man may win his post--the coveted post; he probably will find it full of anxieties, perplexities, cares, even disappointment. He may win wealth, station, high consideration, all those things once he thought so desirable; and with these, perhaps, he will find the hour of health and strength gone, the power of enjoying and even of using the much-coveted possession. Rank, consideration, wealth--gone, hopelessly gone. At Rome, the longed for Rome, like Paul: but, like Paul, a captive, hemmed in, hampered, hindered, bearing about a dying body. Like Paul, he must forget himself; he must set to with the weary work, the restless anxieties, the weak and fading health, and do his best for his Master and his Brother. He must never lose heart, but bravely struggle on. He must, as did Paul, remember it is the Lord’s hand leading him. Perhaps he himself has been unwise in coveting the higher post, but he must take up his heavier cross bravely and carry it to the end for his Master’s sake uncomplainingly, as did Paul. Are there no women among our worshippers who, in past years, have longed for another, a more stirring, a brighter life; have longed for a home, as it is called, of their own; for husband and children, for a so-called independent life; and finding these, have found many a trouble, many a care, many a sorrow? The Rome they found is very different to the Rome of their girl dreams. How did Paul behave under his heavy sorrow? As a brave Christian should. He braced himself up to new and fresh work. Debarred from those missionary circuits which had done so much in old days, when Ephesus was his headquarters, now comparatively alone and friendless, he did his best. He gathered new congregations as best he could--soldiers, camp followers, court attendants--and spoke his Master’s words to these. So passed two years, perhaps more, at Rome--his dream city. Yes; God had heard his prayer. Once more free. Contrary to his expectation evidently, from his sad words in the Philippian letter. He leaves the city associated with so much grief and dread. He had seen Rome, but in chains. Once more free, he hastens away; again the free missionary, but now aged and worn. Three more years of earnest, self-denying, gallant toil for his loved Master. But the shadow of imperial Rome still hangs over the devoted life. The suspicious government now watched him. They looked on him as a ringleader of a dangerous and fanatical sect; as a concealed enemy of the empire. So they seized him again, and again brought him to Rome--after three years. What must have been the aged prisoner’s thoughts when a second time he catered the city he has so desired to dwell in and to see--again in chains? Shall we trace his second residence? It only lasted a few months in close and weary captivity. He probably, save on the days of his trial, never saw the blue heavens, till that morning when they led him out beyond the gates to die. Thus Paul’s heart’s desire was granted, and “he saw Rome.”
There arose no small stir about that way.
Stir about the way
There is no new thing under the sun. Wherever the gospel is preached in its power and purity there has always been no small stir about that way. Some will applaud, and others load it with reproach. Let us inquire--
I. What is meant by “the way.” It may refer--
1. To the doctrines of Christianity. Paul’s great concern was to show the way of salvation by preaching Christ and Him crucified. He is the way, and no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. This was so uniformly and so constantly the topic of the apostolic ministry, that their preaching soon began to be called “that way,” that new and living way, of saving sinners by the cross of Christ.
2. To the way of worship. Spiritual worshippers will be careful to worship God in His own way; not on this mountain or the other. God is a Spirit, etc. Now the way in which primitive believers worshipped was so plain and simple, so fervent and devout, that it seemed like a new and a strange way to the generality.
3. To general practice. The genuine disciples of Jesus not only think differently from the rest of mankind, but their conduct also is marked with peculiarity (1 Peter 4:4). Christians are required to walk not only in the way of believing, but also in the way of God’s statutes.
II. How it comes to pass that such a “stir” is made about this way. Though the religion of Jesus contains the sublimest doctrines, inculcates the purest morals, inspires the most ardent devotion, and is the only religion in the world that can afford relief and comfort to a sinner, yet no sooner did it begin to spread than it occasioned a universal commotion, and the ministers of the gospel were charged with having turned the world upside down. Christ foretold this (Matthew 10:34), and the event justified the prediction. Some were softened, others hardened; some, like Agrippa, were half convinced, and others, like Gallio, cared for none of these things. Some said, Let these men alone; others, Away with them, for it is not fit that they should live. So they had said of Christ their Lord and Master. While the strong man armed kept possession the goods were in peace. The Jewish rulers, the heathen philosophers, and idolaters agreed well enough together; but no sooner did the gospel make its appearance, and the kingdom of Satan begin to be in danger, than he raised a disturbance in the world. This “stir” may also be considered as taking place in the same individuals; for there would be a struggle between their convictions and their corruptions, between the new light they had received and their old prejudices. The “stir,” therefore, would arise from some of the following causes:
1. From the natural blindness of the heart, and the perversion of the understanding (John 1:5).
2. From an undue attachment to the present world. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” said Demetrius. Why? Because they made shrines for that idol, and by this craft they got their wealth.
3. A misconception of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. Some have thought the doctrines too obscure, and the precepts too severe.
4. From the outward meanness of the preachers and professors of the gospel.
5. From that powerful influence which the preaching of the gospel had upon the minds of those who did not cordially embrace it. God’s Word “took hold of them” (Ezekiel 2:5). They were terrified, but not brought to true repentance. Hence arose a fermentation in their minds, like that produced by the mixture of an acid with a strong alkali. We may here see the wisdom of God in thus causing even unbelievers to bear witness of the power and authority of the Word. The stir made about the gospel has once and again tended to its propagation. When the Jews contradicted and blasphemed, the Gentiles became more attentive and inquisitive. The stir which was now made at Ephesus was the means of contributing to the spread of the gospel, for we afterwards read of a considerable Church being formed, and of a great number of believers in that city. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The gospel makes a stir
I. The gospel is a peculiar way--
1. Of thinking.
2. Of feeling.
3. Of acting.
II. The stir which it produces.
4. Activity. (W. W. Wythe.)
Revolutions of Christianity
The shock that buried Lisbon in 1755 never ceased to vibrate till it reached the wilds of Scotland and the vineyards of Madeira. It was felt in the Grecian archipelago, and it changed the level of the solitary lakes that sleep beneath the shadow of the North Alps. Even so the shock that Satan’s kingdom sustained when Christianity was established will not cease to vibrate till it move the whole world. (Hardwicke.)
A certain man named Demetrius.
Paul and Demetrius
The application of these words to present day life is a task that might be assigned to a child. Demetrius never dies; his word is to be heard in every tongue; he is present in great force in every Church, as representing two special phases of life. With the subtlety of selfishness he puts the case with comical adroitness. He knows the value of a little piety. If it were a mere matter of trade, he could have lifted his noble self above all market place considerations, but “that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised” was the thought that afflicted his pious heart.
I. What was the reality of the case from the first point of view? Trade was injured. If Paul had preached abstract ideas, Demetrius would have made shrines for him if he had ordered them, but a preacher that thunders upon immediate iniquity may get himself into trouble. Modern preachers might preach a whole year upon the evils of intemperance, but if those who deal in strong drink were to find their takings going down the preacher would soon hear of the circumstance. You may circulate what books you please, but if the literature that is eating out the morality of our young people is arrested in its baleful progress, then you will be caricatured, contemned, laughed at. Rejoice when such persecution befalls you. It is a sign of true success. Demetrius will not fail to let you know how your work is going on. But press on--another stroke, another rush, and down goes Demetrius, and all his progeny fall into the pit to keep him profitless company. What bad journal have you, as a Christian Church, ever shut up? What place of iniquitous business have you ever bought and washed, and within its unholy walls set up the altar of Christ? Where do you follow and outbid Demetrius, driving him back? We are afraid to build churches too near one another; we study one another’s feelings about that. Show me the thoroughfare in any great city in which Christian churches have pushed back evil institutions--back to the river’s edge, and into the river, if possible. To see such a city would be to see the beginning of heaven.
II. The next phase of the case as put by Demetrius is infinitely more humiliating. The temple of the great goddess Diana is in danger. That particular phase of the situation is best represented by the words “a religious panic.” The temple was in danger. That is the language of today. If it is a temple that can be put in danger, it is a temple made with hands, and must go down. Hear the great challenge of the Master: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” What panics we have seen! As if truth could ever be in danger! Some time ago a number of highly learned men issued a volume entitled “Essays and Reviews.” It was the doom of Christianity! And yet Christianity has gone forward on her beneficent career without ever having bought a copy of the volume that some people earnestly thought was to have taken her life. We ought to have a religion that cannot be put in danger. If our religion is an affair of letters, forms, dates, autographs, then I do not wonder that our cabinet is sometimes broken into. I do not keep my religion in a museum, or lock it up in an iron safe; my conception of God no man can break through nor steal. You cannot take my Bible from me; if you could prove that the Apostle John wrote the Pentateuch, and that Moses wrote the Apocalypse, and that the Apocalypse should come in the middle of the Bible, you have not touched what I hold to be the revelation of God to the human heart. What we, as the common people, have to be sure about is, that God has sent great messages of law and love and light and life to everyone of us; that God’s revelations do not depend upon changing grammars, but upon an inward, spiritual consciousness and holy sympathy. Whose insight is not intellectual but moral--the purity of heart which sees God. The Bible speaks to my own heart as no other book speaks. It proves its own inspiration by its grasp of human life, by its answers to human need. The town clerk laid down the principle that ought to guide us (verse 36). The brevity of life, the certainty of death, the reality of sin, the present hell that burns me, the need of a Saviour--these things cannot be “spoken against”; therefore, those of us who feel them to be true “ought to be quiet.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul and Demetrius
1. Men have talked a great deal about the toleration of Rome and of ancient civilised nations as compared with the intolerance of Christian nations and times. Wherever, in ancient or modern times, men preach truths adverse to the current truths in such a way that they are kept high above men’s heads they can preach them as long as they please. Paul might have discussed the abstract questions of religion and the various questions of idols and idolaters to the end of his life, and no Demetrius would have risen up. It was not until the truth he preached found an application to men that his preaching became offensive; and indeed all great truths do reach down, finally, to men’s private and business life. I will defy any man to preach any great salient moral truth thoroughly and not find himself meddling with questions which concern courts, merchants, statesmen, politicians. When, therefore, it is said, e.g., “These ministers have no right to meddle with political questions,” it is saying that ministers may preach truths as long as they do not hit anywhere, but that when they have carried them out in such a way that they take hold of men’s interests, and so begin to be practical, then they must stop, because they have no right to preach politics!
2. Paul had no conception of what he was doing. He was preaching Christ fearlessly, freely. He had no idea of the existence of Demetrius, and did not dream that he was hurting anybody. And yet you see what were the ramifications of moral truth, and how, as the result of Paul’s preaching, there uprose this Demetrius and his craftsmen. It bore testimony against them. And so long as the world stands faithful preaching will not only do what the preacher aims to do, but a great deal more. It will reach men that he never thought of and interests that he never contemplated. Truth may be handled with unnecessary offence, without a wise regard to times and seasons. There is such a way of preaching that under favourable circumstances we can sometimes persuade men to hear the truth against their interests. But, on the whole, there is no way in which you can so preach the truth that it will destroy men’s interests, and have them remain peaceable, and like it. That was what our Master meant when He said, “I came not to send peace, but sword.” He knew that men who live by pampering superstitions and evil passions would not consent to be purified without a struggle. Satan, either in man or in society, is neither to be bound or cast out, except there be a mighty power over against him.
3. You will therefore say that this Demetrius was a very bad man. But was he? Remember, first, that he knew no religion but heathenism, and that he supposed that to be the best religion there was in the world. Remember, too, that he occupied the same relation to his religion that the Tract Society does to ours. The latter makes shrines--little books representing their notions of religion. And Demetrius probably said to himself, “It is better for the people to stick to their religion; and what if making their shrines is profitable to me, I am working at a religious business. And as our religion is associated with our country, I am making men not only religious, but patriotic.” Here was a Jew, that was not born in Asia, but away off in Palestine, and was setting forth a strange God; and Demetrius felt everything in him rise up in indignation. But it is very evident that his feeling of self-interest was strongest. He was not a good man, and yet he was not an extremely bad man. He was just like men that you see every day. There is nothing more common than for men to hang one motive outside where it can be seen and keep the others in the background to turn the machinery.
4. From this narrative we may derive the principle that moral truth is of transcendently more value than all the material interests, order, or peace of society. There is an impression that the gospel is such a soothing syrup that if a preacher knows his business men going to hear him will be made very peaceable and happy, and will go away feeling very good. If, on the other hand, a man disturbs the community, it is thought that these results are prima facie evidence that he is not a true preacher of the gospel; and it has passed into a byword--we see it in all the fifth-rate newspapers and hear it from the lips of pot house politicians--that ministers ought to be “followers of the meek and lowly Jesus,” and that they “go beyond their sphere” when they preach so as to disturb anybody. But hear again our Saviour’s words: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth,” etc. If you go home, saying, “I must follow the Lord,” and everybody in the household says, “We are following Mammon, or Pleasure,” it is for you to stand by your higher light; and you will give offence. Nevertheless, you must be firm. If the father and mother will worship Baal, and the child would worship Jehovah, the child must not yield; and if there be quarrelling, it is not the child’s fault. (H. W. Beecher.)
The power of obscure men
A man may work a great evil, and yet himself not be a great man. Demetrius has no history. He raised the town that day, not by any powers of mind or heart, but simply by the explosive force of those depraved and selfish passions to which he appealed. Anybody can do that; and then, when the popular violence is aroused, he can imagine himself a chieftain or a hero. (G. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Undisturbed. Nothing in Ephesus was more thrifty and well behaved. It asked nothing of the gospel except to be left alone. Shrine making was a perfectly “legitimate business.” It combined religion with art. It was patriotic, for it made Ephesus renowned. It was in a “healthy condition.” The liquor traffic could not have been more quiet, nor newspapers more up to the times. The business was harmonious within. Capital and labour had no quarrel. Demetrius and Co. were no enemies of the working classes, for they brought much gain to the craftsmen.
II. Alarmed. Learn now--
1. How sensitive it is. Covetousness in the abstract preachers may assail with perfect impunity, but business is a different thing.
2. How energetic.
3. How cruel. The idolatry is condemned of God and is the death of souls; but what of that? Mere sentiment. “By this we have our wealth.”
4. How hypocritical. Under the garb of zeal for religion.
1. By its own blunders. It has a majority, but no case. It makes the mistake of trying to put down truth by brawling. Another blunder was falsehood.
2. Through its dangerous drift. There is nothing truly conservative but truth and righteousness. Covetousness in trade or politics will sooner or later upheave society. Here it “filled the whole city with confusion.” It will jeopardise any public interest to save its gold.
3. Through the power of simple truth and goodness. The mayor of the city sees through it all. (A. Mitchell, D. D.)
Defence of vested interests
Idolatry is renunciation of the one God and degradation to men. But there are men now who will defend and combine to protect the traffic in intoxicating liquors, in adulterating with poisons the food of the people, in stock gambling, in lotteries, in the circulation of obscene books and pictures, in many methods which are forbidden by God and are demoralising and destructive to mankind. Now, all these modes of money making are opposed by the whole spirit of Christ’s precepts, and just so far as Christian principles prevail in a country, these kinds of business must be subverted. The classes of men who would rather make money than obey God will resist and clamour and combine against any efforts that may be made to popularise the spirit and purity of gospel principles. They will even become quite religious, as did these image makers of Ephesus, in pleading for liberty to selfishness and in defence of vested rights. They would rather worship Diana and her images than Jesus Christ and His beneficences if the former would permit and the latter would forbid money making by wronging and debasing their fellow men. So we have in this lesson some very important practical teachings for our own age. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The spirit of sedition: the teachings of experience concerning its deceptions
1. One pretends to high aims, and is influenced by the grossest selfishness.
2. One thinks himself free to act, and is the involuntary instrument of crafty seducers.
3. One values himself as enlightened, and commits acts the most foolish.
4. One prides himself that he contends for the right, and perpetrates the most unrighteous deeds of violence.
5. One is filled with extravagant expectations, and in the end gains nothing.
1. If Demetrius makes silver images and Paul preaches against idolatry, there is bound to be a struggle between them.
2. If he can summon a few congenial spirits--craftsmen who work very little with their hands and very much with their mouths--the struggle may grow to an uproar.
3. If he and his congenial spirits can get the attention of the city rabble, the uproar may attain to the dignity of a riot.
4. If he and his companions can disguise the denton of selfishness by calling it “the goddess Diana,” or “Public Worship,” or the “Cause of Justice,” they will invitably do so.
5. If he, the demagogue, makes a speech, he usually manufactures his facts to order. The idea of “all Asia and the world” worshipping Diana! (S. S. Times.)
When the mob--
1. Rushes out to wreak its vengeance on somebody, it usually catches the wrong man.
2. Can agree on a common cry, the riotous element is much strengthened.
3. Is thoroughly, wildly, unreasonably mad, it is a needless risk for Paul to go in unto them.
4. Howls the loudest, its members usually have the least possible idea what they are howling about.
5. Knows why it comes together, it is wiser than most mobs are.
6. Finds out that Alexander is a Jew, or for any other reason is unpopular, his eloquence is useless.
7. Has spent two or three hours in yelling itself hoarse, then there may possibly be a chance for the town clerk or somebody else to make himself heard. (S. S. Times.)
A good town clerk
1. Happy the city with so able an official as the town clerk of Ephesus.
2. Wise the advice that urges the angry multitude to do nothing rashly.
3. Shrewd the counsel that reminds the mob of the law whose place it is usurping.
4. Keen the insight that sees just when to read the Riot Act to the crowd.
5. Admirable the judgment that can tell when to work on the people’s fears. (S. S. Times.)
The uproar at Ephesus
I. Bore brave testimony to the power of the gospel. Had the work of Paul been confined to a few, or only reached the heads and not the hearts of many in Ephesus, Demetrius would have paid no attention to it. The offence lay in the fact that it had gained power, and was pushing the old faith to the wall. So in our day. When liquordealers rally, and policy shop holders amalgamate, it is because righteousness is beginning to make itself felt.
II. Was rooted in selfishness. In this case the selfishness was pecuniary. In other cases it was political; in others yet it was ecclesiastical. So today.
III. Was fostered by false arguments. “The temple of the great goddess Diana is to be despised.” Had they stopped to investigate the matter, they would have found that the apostle would have substituted in the place of an idol the only living and true God, and in the place of filth and lust would have put purity and virtue; and that surely would have been better. But when the purse was threatened they were blind to all else, and bolstered up their cause as best they might with poor arguments. So it is yet. Rum sellers cry “fanaticism” and extol “personal liberty.” Infidels decry Sunday laws, pleading “liberty of conscience” for all. But, as in Paul’s time, the motive is selfishness and the argument hypocritical.
IV. Proceeds to violence. This spirit, modified, is what underlies all petty persecutions. If we are not ready to succumb to evil, it turns on us, and delights to inflict pain by look, by word, by deed.
V. In no way injured Christianity. No blood was shed. But if it had Christianity would not have been injured. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” A persecuted Church is far more alive in true heroic virtue than a rich Church. No opposition of evil men today, however they may band themselves together, can truly hinder the progress of Christ’s Church. (A. F. Schauffler.)
The uproar in Ephesus
I. Opposition to the gospel has proceeded from the bad passions of men--from avarice, ambition, love of earthly pleasures. This uproar was excited by mercenary artificers, who worshipped no god with so much ardour as the god of riches. Such opposition reflects honour upon Christianity. Had it been a human contrivance, it would have been adapted, like other impostures, to the corrupt inclinations of mankind. The enemies of our religion, in order to justify their opposition, have brought many false accusations against it. But it cannot be justly charged with disturbing the peace of society, which it secures by impressing upon the heart the purest lessons of morality. It cannot be charged with impairing domestic happiness, since it establishes the empire of love. It cannot be charged with impeding the business and the duties of life, for it teaches us to acquit ourselves with fidelity in every relation. What, then, is the evil which it has done? It has abolished certain institutions which originated in the cruelty and licentiousness of mankind; it has overthrown establishments under which imposture flourished; it has restrained vices which were the sources of private gratification and public misery.
II. The sacred name of religion has been prostituted to serve the most infamous purposes. It was the pretext under which Demetrius and his accomplices concealed their design to secure the gain which they derived from the folly and delusion of their countrymen. In the name of religion conquerors have desolated the earth, persecutors have committed unnatural cruelties, Churches have corrupted the doctrines and institutions of the gospel, repealed the ordinances of Heaven, imposed their own unhallowed commands upon the consciences of their subjects, and fulminated excommunications against the pious and the sincere. The language of all such persons has been, “Come, see our zeal for the Lord.”
II. The concurrence of a multitude in support of a cause is no proof of its justice. Truth is not to be decided by numbers. In the old world Noah alone was found faithful, while the rest had corrupted their ways. In the wilderness all the Israelites rebelled except Caleb and Joshua. When our Saviour appeared upon the earth how few of the Jews acknowledged Him to be the Messiah! And in the dark ages did not “all the world wonder after the beast”? The maxim that the voice of the people is the voice of God is, for the most part evidently false, and in no case can be admitted without many limitations. What, in most cases, is the voice of the people but the voice of thoughtlessness, prejudice, and passion? What is it, in fact, but the voice of a few artful men who make use of the people as the blind instruments of accomplishing their private designs?
IV. God reigns and carries on the designs of His government amidst the commotions of the world. He rules not only over the unconscious elements, but likewise over the passions of men. When these passions are most headstrong and impetuous, He controls their fury, and directs their course. In the uproar at Ephesus He preserved the life of Paul and his companions, first by the confusion of the people, and then by the seasonable interference of a person of prudence and authority. Let us not be dismayed, although the pillars of the earth should be shaken and all things should seem to be out of course (Psalms 93:1-4). (J. Dick, A. M.)
The uproar at Ephesus
was a representative transaction, and from it we may learn important lessons.
I. Popular opposition to the gospel is to be expected. That gospel from the beginning has been forced to make its way against the sturdy resistance of those to whom it has been addressed; and the religious apathy of the masses and the pronounced enmity of leaders in society, literature, and science today are phenomena which cannot escape the most careless attention. And yet, rightly viewed, there is nothing strange or alarming in this. Final victory is promised, but battle is to precede it. It is not to be expected that men will quietly surrender to a system that endeavours to reverse the gravitation of their nature. They are fond of self-pleasing; how shall they listen willingly to teaching of self-denial, etc., etc.?
II. Popular opinion is not the proper criterion of truth. If the matter could have been decided by “counts of heads and clack of tongues,” then Diana would have triumphed against Christ. So long as Christianity is accepted only by a fragment of the community or the race, shallow thinkers justify their unfaith. But the most cursory reading of history rebukes the fallacy of the position. It was public opinion in Jerusalem that drove Jesus to Calvary; that here refused the gospel a hearing; that in Paris crimsoned the streets with Huguenot blood. From the beginning until now public opinion has cursed the world with false faith and outrage of every sort. And so no man can find any warrant for his personal convictions in the fact that the bulk of society is of his way of thinking. Upon him alone falls always the solemn shadow of personal responsibility. It is easier to swim with the swift current of popular thought than to ally ourselves with the minority that are breasting the stream.
III. The claims of the gospel will not be acknowledged while there is an idol in the way. It was not the truth which Paul preached, in itself considered, to which the Ephesians objected. Let the apostle teach a doctrine which would make the trade in silver shrines good, and Demetrius would have turned his opposition into help. It was not pure reverence for Diana that actuated them; it was their business that made them so religious in her direction. Let Paul lay down as the first condition of salvation that every man must set up a shrine to Jesus, and it would have answered quite as well. Their personal gain was the real idol. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The triumphs of the gospel
The meeting which Demetrius now addressed was a very remarkable one. It gives us an insight into--
1. The perversion of human handicraft. Here is an assembly of men whose inventive genius and skilful labour were employed in the manufacturing of things offensive to Heaven and debasing to souls. Much of the industry of the world is employed in fabricating that which is bad--beverages which brutalise the reason, arts which inflame the lusts, and horrid implements of torture and death. So men build up fortunes by selling the productions of wickedness.
2. The force of the mercantile spirit. What brought these men together, and inspired Demetrius to arrest the progress of the truth was cupidity. Preach of human liberty to slaveholders; peace to those who get their living in providing weapons for battle; spiritual independency to men who derive their revenue and influence by arrogating dominion over men’s faith; and you will have the mercenary spirit rising in full tide against you.
3. The revolutionary power of the gospel Demetrius felt that the very foundations of idolatry were being sappped by the doctrines of the apostle (verse 26). The triumphs of the gospel at Ephesus, according to Demetrius--
I. Involved a religious revolution. Such a change is always--
1. The most radical. The god of the soul, whatever it is, is in all cases the object of the soul’s supreme affection, and the very root of man’s life. Change this in a man, and you change the whole current of his existence; you reverse the action of the machinery of his being. The man becomes a “new creation,” a “new man.”
2. The most difficult. The strongest attachments are the religious. Men have ever been ready to give their property, their wives, their children, their very lives for their gods. Add to this that the old religions had a grand history, a gorgeous aspect, and a worldwide popularity, which gave them an immense influence over their devotees.
II. Were undeniable facts. He suggests three kinds of evidence--
1. Personal observation--“Ye see,” etc. They had seen with their own eyes the change which the gospel had wrought. Such ocular evidence most men in Christendom are privileged to possess. Who has not known the drunkard, the blasphemer, the licentious, and the selfish, become, by the power of the gospel, temperate, reverent, chaste, and generous?
2. General testimony--“Ye hear,” doubtless from their own townsmen, whom they were bound to believe. Such evidence is nearly as conclusive as the former, and is often available where the former is not. What we have seen is but a fraction compared with what we have heard. “We have heard with our ears,” etc. From the testimony of Paul we are assured that in Colosse, Ephesus, Rome, and Corinth, wonderful religious revolutions had been effected by the gospel he had preached. Clement confirms, in a letter which he wrote thirty years after, this testimony.
3. Avowed enemies. Could Demetrius have denied, or ignored its effects, he would have done so. The revolutions which Christianity has effected are so manifest, that hostile historians, such as Gibbon, are bound to chronicle them as the fountains of striking epochs.
III. Were confined to no particular type of men. “Not alone at Ephesus, etc.”
IV. Were achieved by the agency of man as man. “This Paul”; not these angels; not these magistrates backed by victorious legions. How did he do it? By wielding civil authority? No. All political power was against him. By miraculous instrumentality? He was, it is true, endowed with this power, but the great moral results of his ministry are not ascribed to this. Here is the agency he employs--He “hath persuaded.” This is the noblest of works. He who wins one soul achieves a conquest that throws the victories of the Caesars, Alexanders, and Napoleons into contempt. Conclusion: There is much in connection with the agency of Paul at Ephesus which impresses us with Divine power.
1. In his daring to enter such a place.
2. In what, by his simple agency, he accomplished there. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Which made silver shrines for Diana.--
The worship of Diana
The worship of Artemis or Diana had from a very early period been connected with the city of Ephesus. The first temple owed much of its magnificence to Croesus. This was burnt down in B.C. 335, by Herostratus, who was impelled by an insane desire thus to secure an immortality of renown. Under Alexander the Great it was rebuilt with more stateliness than ever, and was looked upon as one of the seven wonders of the world. Its porticoes were adorned with paintings and sculptures by the great masters of Greek art, Phidias and Polycletus, Calliphron and Apelles. It had an establishment of priests, attendants, and boys, which reminds us of the organisation of a great cathedral or abbey in mediaeval Europe. Provision was made for the education of the children employed in the temple services, and retiring pensions given to priests and priestesses. Large gifts and bequests were made for the maintenance of its fabric and ritual, and the city conferred its highest honours upon those who thus enrolled themselves among its illustrious benefactors. Pilgrims came from all parts of the world to worship or to gaze, and carried away with them memorials in silver and bronze, generally models of the sacellum, or sanctuary, in which the image of the goddess stood, and of the image itself. That image, however, was very unlike the sculptured beauty with which Greek and Roman art loved to represent the form of Artemis, and would seem to have been the survival of an older cultus of the powers of nature, like the Phrygian worship of Cybele, modified and renamed by the Greek settlers who took the place of the original inhabitants. A four-fold many-breasted female figure, ending, below the breasts, in a square column, with mysterious symbolic ornamentation, in which bees, and ears of corn, and flowers were strangely mingled, carved in wood, black with age, this was the centre of the adoration of that never-ceasing stream of worshippers. Its ugliness was, perhaps, the secret of its power. When art clothes idolatry with beauty, man feels at liberty to criticise the artist and his work, and the feeling of reverence becomes gradually weaker. The savage bows before his fetich with a blinder homage than that which Pericles gave to the Jupiter of Phidias. The first real blow to the worship which bad lasted for so many ages was given by the two years of St. Paul’s work of which we read here. As by the strange irony of history, the next stroke aimed at its maghificence came from the hand of Nero, who robbed it, as he robbed the temples of Delphi, and Pergamus, and Athens, not sparing even villages, of many of its art treasures for the adornment of his Golden House at Rome (Tacit. Ann. 15.45). Trajan sent its richly-sculptured gates as an offering to a temple at Byzantium. As the Church of Christ advanced, its worship, of course, declined. Priests and priestesses ministered in deserted shrines. When the empire became Christian, the temple of Ephesus, in common with that at Delphi, supplied materials for the church, erected by Justinian, in honour of the Divine Wisdom, which is now the Mosque of St. Sophia. When the Goths devastated Asia Minor, in the reign of Gallienus (A.D. 263), they plundered it with a reckless hand, and the work which they began was completed centuries later by the Turks. The whole city, bearing the name of Aioslouk--has fallen into such decay that the very site of the temple was till within the last few years a matter of dispute among archaeologists. (Dean Plumptre.)
The temple of Diana
1. Do you not see in that temple of Diana an expression of what the world needs? It wants a God who can provide food. Diana was a huntress. In pictures on many of the coins she held a stag by the horn with one hand and a bundle of arrows in the other. Oh, this is a hungry world! Diana could not give one pound of meat, or one mouthful of food to the millions of her worshippers. Let Diana have her arrows and her hounds; our God has the sunshine and the showers and the harvests, and in proportion as He is worshipped does plenty reign.
2. So also in the temple of Diana the world expressed its need of a refuge. To it from all parts of the land came debtors who could not pay their debts, and the offenders of the law that they might escape incarceration. But she sheltered them only a little while, and, while she kept them from arrest, she could not change their hearts, and the guilty remained guilty. But our God in Jesus Christ is a refuge into which we may fly from all our sins and be safe for eternity, and the nature is transformed.
3. Then, in that temple were deposited treasures from all the earth for safe keeping. Chrysostom says it was the treasure house of nations; they brought gold and silver and precious stones and coronets from across the sea, and put them under the care of Diana of the Ephesians. But again and again were those treasures ransacked, captured, or destroyed. Nero robbed them, the Scythians scattered them, the Goths burned them. Diana failed those who trusted her with treasures, but our God, to Him we may entrust all our treasures for this world and the next, and He will not fail anyone who put confidence in Him.
4. But notice what killed Ephesus, and what has killed most of the cities that lie buried in the cemetery of nations. Luxury! The costly baths, which had been the means of health to the city, became its ruin. Instead of the cold baths that had been the invigoration of the people, the hot baths, which are only intended for the infirm or the invalid, were substituted. In these hot baths many lay most of the time. Authors wrote books while in these baths. Business was neglected and a hot bath taken four or five times a day. When the keeper of the baths was reprimanded for not having them warm enough, one of the rulers said: “You blame him for not making the bath warm enough; I blame you because you have it warm at all.” But that warm bath which enervated Ephesus was only a type of what went on in all departments of Ephesian life, and in luxurious indulgence. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Brought no small gain unto the craftsmen.--
Self-interest often leads men to oppose the truth. A missionary once wrote: “One man was very indignant on hearing the sin and folly of idol worship exposed; the native brother who was speaking coolly replied, ‘I suppose you are a maker of images?’ ‘Yes!’ exclaimed a voice in the crowd; ‘he makes and sells them for four annas apiece.’ ‘I thought so,’ said the native brother; ‘he is afraid lest any should be persuaded not to buy his images; that is the reason he is so angry with us.’ This remark excited such a general laugh at the idol maker, that for shame he retired from the crowd and gave us no more trouble.” (J. L. Nye.)
Self interest in opinion
Nothing more hinders men from going to or from an opinion than the interest they have by holding it. Men do not care so much for the opinions they hold, as for what they hold by their opinions. Many a man thinks what Demetrius said; hence they fly in the face of truth, so dearly sweet and sweetly dear, is their darling gain. They see they cannot have the honey unless they burn the bees, and therefore fire them forthwith; they cannot possess the vineyard, unless Naboth be put to death, and therefore he must be dispatched. When once the copyhold of gain and honour is touched, men begin to look about them, and will never call godliness gain, because gain is their godliness. (R. Venning.)
Pocket or principle
Depend upon it, Paul was voted a good enough sort of Jew until he began to interfere with business. It is always so. You touch men’s trade and you will soon find out how near their religious convictions lie to their pockets. Any one who proposes to interfere with profits will be set upon, right or wrong. It is no longer a question of principle, but of £. s. d. Suppose I am a High, or a Low, or a Broad Churchman--it matters little which--in the name of decency and common sense I declare that six public houses within thirty yards, as at Glasgow, are excessive; or 20,000 are too many for London--do you think I shall stop the renewal of one license next year? Not a bit of it! There’s too much wealth and social influence enlisted against me--too many brewers in parliament--for my feeble might to have any weight. But what will happen? Why, if I am a High Churchman, the brewers will discover that I am a person of Romanizing tendencies, to be vigorously resisted in the name of our national protestantism; if I am a Low Churchman, they will call me a narrow, old-fashioned bigot; if I am a Broad Churchman, they will say that I am unorthodox, a most dishonest person, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a very dangerous man. Yes, certainly; very dangerous--to beer. So the instant Paul’s popularity touched the manufacture of silver shrines, Demetrius organised a Trades-Union mob, and nearly succeeded in wrecking Paul and his followers. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Paul at Ephesus
This chapter contains a description of two forces which then operated, and still operate, against the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of them is the greed of men who have pecuniary interest opposed to righteousness, and the other of them is what the historian calls the curious arts--what we may describe as a tendency to dabble with the real or imaginary intercourse between this world and the next outside of God Himself; a tendency which shows itself at every point in the development of the Church. Now, this indignation meeting of the craftsmen of Diana’s shrine has furnished the model of many similar gatherings since. It does not appear that Paul had said anything disrespectful about Diana; on the contrary, the town clerk says that he had not mentioned her: he had been eminently cautious. At the same time, the accusation of Demetrius was a sufficiently reasonable one, for the gospel is a very awkward force in this world. I will not remain in the clouds, it will get its feet upon the ground; it will not be content to discuss the future, it will have its say about the present; it will not deal with you as if you were angels up yonder, it will always remember that you are men. And, therefore, it comes and grips the practical questions of life, and, unlike all other religions, it is most firm precisely where all the forces of the world and human interest are marshalled against righteousness and truth. I must say that Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen showed a very keen insight into the position. They seemed to perceive that though the preacher never mentioned Artemis and Diana, supposing what the preacher said were really listened to by the people, it would be like the daylight breaking into an old tenement and rousing and expelling the moles and the bats and the vermin. Demetrius saw distinctly what many people do not see even today, that the gospel need never lift up its voice and cry, that it can come into a society with the sweet piercing breath of the Spirit, and every abuse will be terrified and every sinner trembling in his shoes. I confess that my sympathy with Demetrius is great, and so is yours. He was perfectly right. He had invested his capital in silver for making the silver shrines for Diana, his wife and children depended upon it, and if these were to be disturbed he would see his little children starving. And I like Demetrius; there is something honest about him. He is the best man of the kind that we read of in history up to this day. He begins his speech frankly and truly: he says, “Ye know that by this business we have our wealth.” He says nothing about religion until he has made it clear that it is a clear appeal to the selfish interests, and when he has secured the selfish interests, then he draws over the decent garment of religious concern for the great goddess Diana. The people of today are not so distinct in this matter; they begin with religion, and do not always mention the incidental fact “by this fact we have our wealth.” I do not know anything more terrible than for a man to have chosen his life in such a way that his interests in the world can only be promoted on condition that the eternal laws of God shall be suspended. When a man has so embarked in the course of life, that he cannot easily withdraw, the dilemma is perfectly clear: either he will have to yield his interests to the gospel of Christ, and he will be ruined, as we call it, he will lose all his profit. It is a terrible position, and I do not myself wonder that when one is in that position he invokes all the powers of heaven on his side, and quotes Christianity against Christ, and will have a religious reason for the most irreligious doing. The other force which is enlisted against the gospel in this chapter concerning Ephesus is one about which it is more difficult to speak. It was called in the ancient world sorcery; it has not yet got an accepted title in the modern world. But let us observe what it is. When faith decays superstition grows. When the clear vision ceases, the dark, shadowy, and occult process begins. We need not say much about it, but I shall lift up my voice against it as long as I can, and especially to young people, and I urge you to have nothing to do with it. God has quite sufficiently revealed Himself in human life and in nature for all sound minds; and I want you to be content to remain ignorant rather than gain doubtful knowledge about occult things in doubtful ways. Now I want to close by reminding you of the great power by which the opposing forces were met and can be met today. It is described in the sixth verse of the chapter, and it is referred to in the second verse, where the apostle put this question to the twelve men who were Christians at Ephesus but had not received the Holy Ghost. And there is a distinction drawn between two kinds of baptism; one is the baptism of John, and the other is the baptism into the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the Holy Ghost is identical with the baptism into the name of Jesus Christ. These two baptisms remain distinct up to the present day; the one is formal, ritualistic, is quite easily received and quite easily given; the other is spiritual and real, and can be received only by the most radical change of the whole life when the soul is wrought into the very name of Jesus Christ, emptied there, filled there, made new there, receiving from God the life that is God, the life manifested in the flesh. The one baptism makes us professors, the other baptism makes us possessors. (R. F. Horton, M. A.)
Gaius and Aristarchus… Paul’s companions in travel
The morals of travelling
These four words would be epitaph enough for any man.
It would take four days to tell the object, victories, sufferings of their travels. They trod the streets of the greatest cities, and fell at times among barbarians. Travelling then was hard work, and so it sometimes is now, as when a missionary like Livingstone, or an explorer like Columbus, or a philanthropist like Howard, goes on his travels. I smile when I meet some travellers with their finery, irritabilities, and affectations. They seem to think that the few words of disorganised French they have picked up warrants them carrying themselves higher than before. And then one thinks of Gaius and Aristarchus. Leaving them, however, let us consider the subject of travel.
I. Travel to learn. Some say that a man can learn no more abroad than at home. True if he learns nothing at home. Only those know how to travel who know that it would take a year to go round a room properly. Travelling is the most innocent of pleasures, and as a charming means of enlarging the mind is without an equal.
II. Learn what to avoid and what to see. A preacher of righteousness needs to speak plainly on that silly, unclean practice of Englishmen abroad of going to see what they call “life”--not that they always go abroad to see it. Call it rather seeing death, foulness. If someone were to go, for one day at least, to some of those shambles and spend the time in clearing up the dirt, it would be well; but that is not the motive. What I like to see when I travel is life--the vine in its glory, the field in its greenness, how men worship, their temples and shrines; and I always look out the English Church to worship the God of my fathers, in the language of my fathers. Some of you never do that. But, think where you would have gone to if you had been Paul’s companions. Wherever he went the first thing he asked was, “Where is the synagogue?”
III. Take an agreeable companion. This will make the journey more agreeable. If two men can travel together, they can go anywhere and into any business together. And the same thing might be said of young people who are about to marry. If men and women were to do a little travelling together before marriage there would be fewer ill-assorted marriages.
IV. Be calm. Don’t be irritated at mistakes, disappointments, discomforts. They are precious discipline which will help you much when you get home.
V. Know what you are to see. Read up the objects of interest.
VI. Avoid what you can see as well or perhaps better at home, such as third-rate picture galleries and museums. VII. Fight against doing abroad what you would be ashamed to do at home. What meanness to do before God what you would not dare to do before man, and amongst strange men what you would not do before friends. It is beautiful to see the Mohammedan, wherever he is, at a certain hour performing his ablutions, and where water is not to be had rubbing himself with sand, and saying his prayer. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
They rushed with one accord into the theatre.--
The temple of Ephesus
was, next to the temple of Artemis, its chief glory. It held twenty-five thousand people, and was constructed chiefly for gladiatorial combats with wild beasts and the like, but was also used for dramatic entertainments. The theatre of a Greek city, with its wide open area, was a favourite spot for public meetings of all kinds, just as Hyde Park is with us, or as the Champs de Mars was in the French Revolution. So Vespasian addressed the people in the theatre of Antioch. (Dean Plumptre.)
Sermon to the theatrical profession
1. The histrionic art has claimed much of the attention of the world since the day when Thespis acted his play in a waggon at the festival of Dionysius, until this hour when the finest audience rooms in Paris and London are given up to the drama. The theatre of Ephesus was a vast building--the seats rising in concentric circles until no human voice could reach the multitude, and the playactors had masks which served as speaking trumpets, while there were under the seats reflectors of sound. The building was roofless, but covered with an awning to keep out the glare of the sun, and all the performances were in the daytime; while, at the side, there were porticoes into which many of the people retired in time of rain. The building was an overmastering splendour of marble, and glass, and statuary, and gold, and silver, and precious stones.
2. Paul wanted to attend that theatre. What! had the apostle been so pleased with the writings of Eschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes, that between his sermons he must go and look upon the performances of the theatre? No! He wanted to go into that theatre to preach Christ to the people, and vindicate the cause of truth and righteousness. Indeed, I do not know any place more appropriate for the preaching of the gospel than these palaces of dramatic art. Chatham Theatre in New York was never put to a grander purpose than when in 1857, during the great revival, the doors were thrown open for religious assemblages, and hundreds of souls found that their birth place. But until the ministry shall be invited to preach in all theatres, the best thing we can do is to preach to the actors.
3. But, says someone, “You are their avowed enemy.” No, I am not. I acknowledge that there is as much genius in that profession as in any other; that there are men and women in it who are pure, honest, and generous. We must, however, acknowledge that there is an everlasting war between the Church and the playhouse. You do not like the Church. We do not like the theatre. But there is a common ground upon which we can meet today, as souls to be saved or lost, for whom there is a Saviour. I ask the members of the theatrical profession to surrender to Christ on two grounds.
I. Because of the vast amount of usefulness you might wield for Christ. The course of history would have been changed if actors had given themselves to Christian work. It was the dramatic element sanctified in Robert Hall, Chalmers, and Whitfield, that made them the irresistible instruments of righteousness. If Kean, Kemble, Junius Booth, Garrick, and their contemporaries of the stage, had given themselves to the service of the Lord, this would have been a far different world from what it is. If their successors would some night at the close of their performance come to the front of the stage and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, from this time I am a servant of Jesus Christ: I am His for time and for eternity”--it would save the world! “Oh,” you say, “that is an impossibility; there is such a prejudice against us, that if we should come and knock at the door of a Christian Church, we would be driven back.” Great mistake: When Spencer H. Cone stepped from the burning theatre in Richmond, December 26, 1811, into the pulpit of the Baptist denomination, he was rapturously welcomed, and I ask what impression that man ever made as a play actor compared with that which he made as an apostle. I ask that you give to God your power of impersonation, your grip over the human heart, your capacity to subdue, and transport great assemblages. Garrick and Whitfield were contemporaries; the triumph of the one was in Drury Lane Theatre; of the other in Moorfields. From the door of eternity, which man has the pleasanter retrospect?
II. On the ground of your own happiness and safety. There is no peace for any occupation or profession without Christ. The huzza in the Haymarket and Covent Garden could not give peace to Mrs. Siddons, and Betterton, and Kean, and Macready. The world may laugh at the farce, but the comedian finds it a very serious business. Liston in his day had more power to move the mirth of an audience than any other man. He went one day to Dr. Abernethy, saying: “Oh, doctor, I am so low-spirited; can’t you cure me?” Dr. Abernethy, who did not know him, said, “Pooh, pooh, I am not the man you want to see; don’t come to a doctor; go to Liston; two doses would cure a madman.” Alas for Liston, he might cure others, but he could not cure himself. When I preached on the subject before, several play actresses came and said, “We would like to become Christians, if you could only find for us some other occupation.” I said to them what I say to you: that no one ever becomes a Christian until he or she is willing to say, “Lord Jesus, I take Thee now anyhow, come weal or woe, prosperity or privation, comfortable home or almshouse.” But God lets no one be shelterless and hungry who comes in that spirit. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Some therefore cried one thing, and some another.
The excitement at Ephesus
I. What produced it.
1. Self-interest endangered.
2. Superstitious feelings aroused.
3. The unpopularity of the gospel.
4. The persuasive eloquence of one man.
II. What it produced. A display of the spirit of--
1. Enemies of truth.
2. True friends.
3. Eminent Christians. (Stems and Twigs for Sermon Framework.)
The tumult at Ephesus
I. Its causes.
1. The preaching of Paul.
2. The speech of Demetrius.
II. The tumult itself.
1. Paul’s courageous demeanour.
2. The conduct of the populace.
III. The tumult stilled. The speech of the town clerk.
1. A model of worldly prudence.
2. An example of great moral courage.
1. Be not dismayed in times of danger.
2. Unite prudence with courage and justice. (J. H. Tasson.)
Popular disorders--their cause and cure
A depraved commonalty is the teeming source of all moral and political disorder, and the fearful presage, if not speedily averted by an efficient system of Christian instruction, of a sweeping anarchy and great national overthrow. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
And when the town clerk had appeased the people.--
The conduct of the town clerk
When the tumult had gone on for about two hours down comes the town clerk. At the appearance of a well-known Roman official order is quickly restored, just as we have seen a crowd in the streets of London, assembled to witness a fight, quietly disperse on the appearance of one policeman, whilst the two excited combatants saunter off calmly in the opposite direction with their hands in their pockets. This sudden quieting of the city was a great tribute to the genius of Rome for good government. The Roman officials, indeed, usually appear to advantage in the New Testament, especially in the Acts. Gallio knew his business at Corinth, and the town clerk knew his business at Ephesus. His speech was brief and admirable--quite as good as Gallio’s, in its way, and to the point. He said in effect--“Good people, what is this noise about? ‘Great is Diana!’ We all know Diana is great. If a wretched, wandering Jew, half off his head, comes here and says otherwise, what can it matter? Every one in this assembly is aware that the famous image we adore came straight down from Jupiter. Nobody doubts that, so there’s an end of the matter. You are not so simple as to suppose that our temple, celebrated throughout the world, can be in any danger from the windy chatter of this half-blind Paulus and his crew? Then, after all, poor deluded troublesome creatures as we know all the Jews are, yet these particular ones have committed no robbery. (Cries of ‘Demetrius and all of us are being robbed. Here’s the month of May, the place is full of visitors, the temple festival at its height, and we can’t sell our shrines; there’s a lot of dead stock on hand.’) Well, well, if Demetrius and his friends have any grievance, the law is open; let him get his solicitor to prepare his case; both sides will then be heard, and you know that in a Roman law court justice will be done. I’ll see to that. But this is not the way to get your rights. Go home quietly, and your business shall be attended to ‘in a lawful manner.’ Remember, an uproar like this is a serious matter. You have special privileges, and you are in danger of forfeiting them by your unseemly behaviour. You are not under martial law with a propraetor and a legion to rule you, but you are a senatorial province, with a proconsul, and your humble servant in office, who is likely to be ‘called to account’ for this disturbance, and in what a ridiculous, if not criminal light will Demetrius and his followers have to appear then! I fear they, and not Paulus and Alexander, will have to stand as prisoners in the dock.” And beneath this mixture of flattery, irony, and menace, the excited crowd melted away. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
The conduct of the town clerk as an example
Cotton Mather used to say that there was a gentleman mentioned in Acts 19:1-41, to whom he was often and greatly indebted--viz., the town clerk of Ephesus, whose counsel was, “Do nothing rashly.” And on any proposal of consequence he would say, “Let us consult a little with the town clerk of Ephesus.”
The address of the town clerk
I. Conciliation. As if he had said, These poor Jews cannot in any way weaken the authority, limit the influence, or dim the glory of Diana. You may as well be anxious about the radiance of the quenchless stars as about Diana (Acts 19:36). As there is not the slightest occasion for all this tumult, be quiet; act as men, not as children.
II. Conscience. He speaks out the just as well as the politic (Acts 19:37). There is a high testimony from a learned and dignified pagan to the conduct of the apostles as the promoters of a new faith. It shows--
1. That they exhibited a respectful deference to the feelings of the errorists.
2. That they set forth God’s truth rather than battled with men’s opinions.
3. That their language was kind and not reproachful. Would that all promoters of truth had imitated the example of the apostles in this respect.
III. Counsel. He administers wise advice (Acts 19:38). This assembly is an unlawful one. Let there be an assembly of men lawfully called together to settle the matter in dispute.
IV. Caution. In conclusion, he gives them a word of warning (Acts 19:40). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The speech of the town clerk
is the model of a popular harangue. Such excitement was--
I. Undignified, as they stood above all suspicion in religious matters (Acts 19:35-36).
II. Unjustifiable, as they could establish nothing against the men (Acts 19:37).
III. Unnecessary, as other means of redress were open to them (Acts 19:38-39).
IV. Dangerous; if neither pride nor justice availed anything, fear of the Roman power should restrain them (Acts 19:40). (W. Hackett.)
The image which fell down from Jupiter.--
The image of Diana
A many-breasted idol of wood, rude as an African fetich, was worshipped in its shrine, in some portion of which a meteoric stone may have been inserted, the token of its being “the image that fell down from Jupiter.” Similar superstitions belong to various countries, such as the Palladium of Troy, the Ceres of Sicily, the Minerva Polias of Athens, and the Diana of Tauris. Somewhat of the same nature were the shield of Mars at Rome, the black stone in the Caabah at Mecca, that in the temple of the Sun at Baalbec, and the Lia Fail, or stone of destiny, on which the Scottish kings were for many centuries crowned at Scone. Popularly supposed in those ancient times to be a portion of Jacob’s pillar, it was thought to be so connected with the destiny of the kingdom, that wherever it happened to be, there should reign the Scottish race, and though it was removed by Edward to Westminster Abbey, where it now forms the support of the coronation chair of the British sovereign, the old prophecy was fondly believed to be verified when James VI ascended the English throne on the death of Elizabeth. (Prof. Eadie.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25