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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Acts 18

 

 

Verse 1

6-18

Chapter 13

ST. PAUL IN GREECE.

Acts 17:16-18; Acts 18:1

THERE are parallelisms in history which are very striking, and yet these parallelisms can be easily explained. The stress and strain of difficulties acting upon large masses of men evolve and call forth similar types of character, and demand the exercise of similar powers. St. Paul and St. Athanasius are illustrations of this statement. They were both little men, both enthusiastic in their views, both pursued all their lives. long with bitter hostility, and both had experience of the most marvellous and hairbreadth escapes. If any reader will take up Dean Stanley’s "History of the Eastern Church," and react the account given of St. Athanasius in the seventh chapter of that work, he will he strikingly reminded of St. Paul in these various aspects, but specially in the matter of his wondrous escapes from his deadly enemies, which were so numerous that at last they came to regard Athanasius as a magician who eluded their designs by the help of his familiar spirits. It was much the same with St. Paul. Hairbreadth escapes were his daily experience, as he himself points out in the eleventh chapter of his Second Epistle to Corinth. He there enumerates a few of them, but quite omits his escapes from Jerusalem, from the Pisidian Antioch, from Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica. and last of all from Beroea, whence he was driven by the renewed machinations of the Thessalonian Jews, who found out after a time whither the object of their hatred had fled. Paul’s ministry at Beroea was not fruitless, short as it may have been. He established a Church there which took good care of the precious life entrusted to its keeping, and therefore as soon as the deputies of the Thessalonian synagogue came to Beroea and began to work upon the Jews of the local synagogue, as well as upon the pagan mob of the town, the Beroean disciples took Paul, who was the special object of Jewish hatred, and despatched him down to the sea-coast, some twenty miles distant, in charge of certain trusty messengers, while Silas remained behind, in temporary concealment doubtless, in order that he might consolidate the Church. Here we get a hint, a passing glimpse of St. Paul’s infirmity. He was despatched in charge of trusty messengers, I have said, who were to show him the way. "They that conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens." His ophthalmia, perhaps, had become specially bad owing to the rough usage the had experienced, and so he could not escape all solitary and alone as he did in earlier years from Damascus, and therefore guides were necessary who should conduct him "as far as the sea," and then, when they had got that far, they did not leave him alone. They embarked in the ship with him, and, sailing to Athens, deposited him safely in a lodging. The journey was by sea, not by land, because a sea journey was necessarily much easier for the sickly and weary Apostle than the land route would have been, offering, too, a much surer escape from the dangers of pursuit.

The voyage was an easy one, and not too prolonged. The boat or ship in which the Apostle was embarked passed through splendid scenery. On his right hand, as he steered for the south, was the magnificent mountain of Olympus, the fabled abode of the gods, rising a clear ten thousand feet into the region of perpetual snow, while on his left was Mount Athos, upon Which he had been looking ever since the day that he left Troas. But the Apostle had no eye for the scenery, nor had St. Luke a word to bestow upon its description, though he often passed through it, absorbed as they were in the contemplation of the awful realities of a world un-seen. The sea voyage from the place where St. Paul embarked till he came to Phalerum, the port of Athens, where he landed, lasted perhaps three or four days, and covered about two hundred miles, being somewhat similar in distance, scenery, and surroundings to the voyage from Glasgow to Dublin or Bristol, land in both cases being in sight all the time and splendid mountain ranges bounding the views on either side.

St. Paul landed about November 1, 51, at Phalerum, one of the two ports of ancient Athens, the Piraeus being the other, and thence his uncertain steps were guided to the city itself, where he was left alone in some lodging. The Beroean Christians to whom he was entrusted returned perhaps in the same vessel in which they had previously travelled, as the winter season, when navigation largely ceased, was now fast advancing, bearing with them a message to Timothy and Silas to come as rapidly as possible to his assistance, the Apostle being practically helpless when deprived of his trusted friends. At Athens St. Paul for a time moved about examining the city for himself, a process which soon roused him to action and brought matters to a crisis. St. Paul was well used to pagan towns and the sights with which they were filled. From his earliest youth in Tarsus idolatry and its abominations must have been a pain and grief to him; but Athens he found to exceed them all, so that "his spirit was provoked within him as he beheld the city full of idols." We have in ancient Greek literature the most interesting confirmation of the statement here made by St. Luke. We still possess a descriptive account of Greece written by a chatty Greek traveller named Pausanias, in the days of the Antonines, that is, less than a hundred years after St. Paul’s visit, and when Athens was practically the same as in the Apostle’s day. Pausanias enters into the greatest details about Athens, describing the statues of gods and heroes, the temples, the worship, the customs of the people, bestowing the first thirty chapters of his book upon Athens alone. Pausanias’s "Description of Greece" is most interesting to every one because he saw Athens in the height of its literary glory and architectural splendour, and it is specially interesting to the Bible student because it amply confirms and illustrates the details of St. Paul’s visit.

Thus we are told in words just quoted that St. Paul found "the city full of idols," and this provoked his spirit over and above the usual provocation he received wherever he found dead idols like these usurping the place rightfully belonging to the lord of the universe. Now let us take up Pausanias, and what does he tell us? In his first chapter he tells how the ports of Athens were crowded on every side with temples, and adorned with statues of gold and silver. Phalerum, the port where Paul landed, had temples of Demeter, of Athene, of Zeus, and "altars of gods unknown," of which we shall presently speak. Then we can peruse chapter after chapter crowded with descriptions of statues and temples, till in the seventeenth chapter we read how in their pantheistic enthusiasm they idolised the most impalpable of things: "The Athenians have in the market-place, among other things not universally notable, an altar to Mercy, to whom, though most useful of all the gods to the life of man and its vicissitudes, the Athenians alone of all the Greeks assign honours. And not only is philanthropy more regarded among them, but they also exhibit more piety to the gods than others; for they have also an altar to Shame and Rumour and Energy. And it is clear that those people who have a larger share of piety than others have also a larger share of good fortune." While again, in chapter 24, dwelling upon the statues of Hercules and Athene, Pausanias remarks, "I have said before that the Athenians, more than any other Greeks, have a zeal for religion." Athens was, at the time of St. Paul’s visit, the leading university of the world, and university life then was permeated with the spirit of paganism, the lovers of philosophy and science delighting to adorn Athens with temples and statues and endowments as expressions of the gratitude they felt for the culture which they had there gained. These things had, however, no charm for the apostle Paul. Some moderns, viewing him from an unsympathetic point of view, would describe him in their peculiar language as a mere Philistine in spirit, unable to recognise the material beauty and glory which lay around. And this is true. The beauty which the architect and the sculptor would admire was for the Apostle to a large extent non-existent, owing to his defective eye-sight; but even when recognised it was an object rather of dislike and of abhorrence than of admiration and pleasure, because the Apostle saw deeper than the man of mere superficial culture and aesthetic taste. The Apostle saw these idols and the temples consecrated to their use from the moral and spiritual standpoint, and viewed them therefore as the outward and visible signs of an inward festering corruption and rottenness, the more beautiful perhaps because of the more awful decay which lay beneath. The glimpses which St. Paul got of Athens as he wandered about roused his spirit and quickened him to action. He followed his usual course therefore. He first sought his own countrymen the Jews. There was a colony of Jews at Athens, as we know from independent sources. Philo was a Jew the authenticity of whose writings, at least in great part, has never been questioned. He lived at Alexandria at this very period, and was sent, about twelve years earlier, as an ambassador to Rome to protest against the cruel persecutions to which the Alexandrian Jews had been subjected at the time when Caligula made the attempt to erect his statue at Jerusalem, of which we have spoken in a previous chapter. He wrote an account of his journey to Rome and his treatment by the Emperor, which is called "Legatio ad Caium," and in it he mentions Athens as one of the cities where a considerable Jewish colony existed. We know practically nothing more about this Jewish colony save what we are told here by St. Luke, that it was large enough to have a synagogue, not a mere oratory like the Philippian Jews. It cannot, however, have been a very large one. Athens was not a seat of any considerable trade, and therefore had no such attractions for the Jews as either Thessalonica or Corinth; while its abounding idolatry and its countless images would be repellent to their feelings. Modern investigations have, indeed, brought to light a few ancient inscriptions testifying to the presence of Jews at Athens in these earlier ages; but otherwise we know nothing about them. The synagogue seems to have imbibed a good deal of the same easy-going contemptuously tolerant spirit with which the whole atmosphere of Athens was infected. Jews and pagans alike listened to St. Paul, and then turned away to their own pursuits. In a city where every religion was represented, and every religion discussed and laughed at, how could anyone be very much in earnest? St. Paul then turned from the Jews to the Gentiles. He frequented the marketplace, a well-known spot, near to the favourite meeting-place of the Stoic philosophers. There St. Paul entered into discussion with individuals or with groups as they presented themselves. The philosophers soon took notice of the new-comer. His manner, terribly in earnest, would soon have secured attention in any society, and much more in Athens, where whole-souled and intense enthusiasm was the one intellectual quality which was completely wanting. For who but a man that had heard the voice of God and had seen the vision of the Almighty could be in earnest in a city where residents, and strangers sojourning there, all alike spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing? The philosophers and Stoics and Epicureans alike were attracted by St. Paul’s manner. They listened to him as he discoursed of Jesus and the Resurrection, the two topics which absorbed him. They mistook his meaning in a manner very natural to the place, strange as it may seem to us. In Athens the popular worship was thoroughly Pantheistic. Every desire, passion, infirmity even of human nature was deified and adored, and therefore, as we have already pointed out, Pity and Shame and Energy and Rumour, the last indeed the most fitting and significant of them all for a people who simply lived to talk, found spirits willing to prostrate themselves in their service and altars dedicated to their honour. The philosophers heard this new Jewish teacher proclaiming the virtues and blessings of Jesus and the Resurrection, and they concluded Jesus to be one divinity and the Resurrection another divinity, lately imported from the mysterious East. The philosophers were the aristocracy of the Athenian city, reverenced as the University professors in a German or Scotch town, and they at once brought the newcomer before the court of Areopagus, the highest in Athens, charged, as in the time of Socrates, with the duty of supervising the affairs of the national religion, and punishing all attacks and innovations thereon. The Apostle was led up the steps or stairs which still remain, the judges took their places on the rock-hewn benches, St. Paul was placed upon the defendant’s stone, called, as Pausanias tells us, the Stone of Impudence, and then the trial began.

The Athenian philosophers were cultured, and they were polite. They demand, therefore, in bland tones, "May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by thee? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears; we would know, therefore, what these things mean." And now St. Paul has got his chance of a listening audience. He has come across a new type of hearers, such as he has not enjoyed since those early days of his first Christian love, when, after his escape from Jerusalem, he resided at the university city of Tarsus for a long time, till sought out by Barnabas to come and minister to the crowds of Gentiles who were flocking into the Church at Antioch. St. Paul knew right well the tenets of the two classes of men, the Stoics and the Epicureans, with whom he had to contend, and he deals with them effectually in the speech which he delivered before the court. Of that address we have only the barest outline. The report given in the Acts contains about two hundred and fifty words, and must have lasted little more than two minutes if that was all St. Paul said. It embodies, however, merely the leading arguments used by the Apostle as Timothy or some other disciple recollected them and told them to St. Luke. Let us see what these arguments were. He begins with a compliment to the Athenians. The Authorised, and even the Revised, Version represent him indeed as beginning like an unskilled and unwise speaker with giving his audience a slap in the face. "Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are somewhat superstitious," would not have been the most conciliatory form of address to a keen-witted assembly like that before which he was now standing. It would have tended to set their backs up at once. If we study St. Paul’s Epistles, specially his First Epistle to Corinth, we shall find that even when he had to find the most grievous faults with his disciples, he always began like a prudent man by conciliating their feelings, praising them for whatever he could find good or blessed in them. Surely if St. Paul acted thus with believers living unworthy of their heavenly calling, he would be still more careful not to offend men whom he wished to win over to Christ! St. Paul’s exordium was complimentary rather than otherwise, bearing out the description which Pausanias gives of the Athenians of his own day, that "they have more than other Greeks, a zeal for religion." Let us expand his thoughts somewhat that we may grasp their force. "Men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are more religious and more devoted to the worship of the deity than other men. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God." St. Paul here displays his readiness as a practised orator. He shows his power and readiness to become all things to all men. He seizes upon the excessive devotion of the Athenians. He does not abuse them on account of it, he uses it rather as a good and useful foundation on which he may build a worthier structure, as a good and sacred principle, hitherto misapplied, but henceforth to be dedicated to a nobler purpose. The circumstance upon which St. Paul seized, the existence of an altar dedicated to the unknown God, is amply confirmed by historic evidence. St. Paul may have noticed such altars as he passed up the road from Phalerum, where he landed, to the city of Athens, where, as we learn from Pausanias, the next-century traveller, such altars existed in his time; or he may have seen them on the very hill of Areopagus on which he was standing, where, from ancient times, as we learn from another writer, altars existed dedicated to the unknown gods who sent a plague upon Athens. St. Paul’s argument then was this. The Athenians were already worshippers of the Unknown God. This was the very deity he came proclaiming, and therefore he could not be a setter forth of strange gods nor liable to punishment in consequence. He then proceeds to declare more fully the nature of the Deity hitherto unknown. He was the God that made the world and all things therein. He was not identical therefore with the visible creation as the Pantheism of the Stoics declared; but gave to all out of His own immense fulness life and wealth, and all things; neither was He like the gods of the Epicureans who sat far aloof from all care and thought about this lower world. St. Paul taught God’s personal existence as against the Stoics, and God’s providence as against the Epicureans. Then he struck straight at the root of that national pride, that supreme contempt for the outside barbaric world, which existed as strongly among these cultured agnostic Greek philosophers as among the most narrow, fanatical, and bigoted Jews: "He made of one every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after Him, and find. Him." A doctrine which must have sounded exceeding strange to these Greeks accustomed to despise the barbarian world, looking down upon it from the height of their learning and civilisation, and regarding themselves as the only favourites of Heaven. St. Paul proclaims on the Hill of Mars Christian liberalism, the catholic and cosmopolitan character of the true religion in opposition to this Greek contempt grounded on mere human position and privilege, as clearly and as loudly as be proclaimed the same great truth at Jerusalem or in the synagogues of the Dispersion in opposition to Jewish exclusiveness grounded on the Divine covenant. St. Paul had grasped the great lesson taught by the prophets of the Old Testament as they prophesied concerning Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre. They proclaimed the lesson which Jewish ears were slow to learn, they taught the Jews the truth which Paul preached to the philosophers of Athens, they acted upon the principle which it was the great work of Paul’s life to exemplify, that God’s care and love and providence are over all His works, that His mercies are not restrained to any one nation, but that, having made of one all nations upon the face of the earth, His blessings are bestowed upon them all alike. This truth here taught by St. Paul has been slow to make its way. Men have been slow to acknowledge the equality of all nations in God’s sight, very slow to give up their own claims to exceptional treatment and blessing on the part of the Almighty. The great principle enunciated by the Apostle struck, for instance, at the evil of slavery, yet how slowly it made its way. Till thirty years ago really good and pious men saw nothing inconsistent with Christianity in negro slavery. Christian communions even were established grounded on this fundamental principle, the righteous character of slavery. John Newton was a slave trader, and seems to have seen nothing wrong in it. George Whitefield owned slaves, and bequeathed them as part of his property to be held for his Orphan House in America. But it is not only slavery that this great principle overthrows. It strikes down every form of injustice and wrong. God has made all men of one; they are all equally His care, and therefore every act of injustice is a violation of the Divine law which is thus expressed. Such ideas must have seemed exceedingly strange, and even unnatural to men accustomed to reverence the teaching and study the writings of guides like Aristotle, whose dogma was that slavery was based on the very constitution of nature itself, which formed some men to rule and others to be slaves.

St. Paul does not finish with this. He has not yet exhausted all his message. He had now dealt with the intellectual errors and mistakes of his hearers. He had around him and above him, if he could but see the magnificent figure of Athene, the pride and glory of the Acropolis, with its surrounding temples, the most striking proofs how their intellectual mistakes had led the wise of this world into fatal and degrading practices. In the course of his argument, having shown the nearness of God to man, "In Him we live and move and have our being," and the Divine desire that man should seek after and know God, he quoted a passage common to several well-known poets, "For we are also His offspring." This was sufficient for St. Paul, who as we see, in all his Epistles, often flies off at a tangent when a word slips as it were by chance from his pen, leading him off to a new train of ideas. We are the offspring of God. How is it then that men can conceive the Godhead, that which is Divine, to be like unto those gold and silver, brass and marble statues, even though wrought with the greatest possible skill. The philosophers indeed pretended to distinguish between the Eternal Godhead and these divinities and images innumerable, which were but representations of his several characteristics and attributes. But even if they distinguished intellectually, they did not distinguish in practice, and the people from the highest to the lowest identified the idol with the deity itself, and rendered thereto the honour due to God.

St. Paul then proceeds to enunciate his own doctrines. He lightly touches upon, as he did previously at Lystra, [Acts 14:16] a subject which neither the time at his disposal nor the position of his hearers would permit him to discuss. He glances at, but does not attempt to explain, why God had postponed to that late date this novel teaching: "The times of ignorance God overlooked; but now He commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent." This doctrine of repentance, involving a sense of sin and sorrow for it, must have sounded exceeding strange to those philosophic ears, as did the announcement with which the Apostle follows it up, the proclamation of a future judgment by a Man whom God had ordained for the purpose, and authenticated by raising Him from the dead. Here the crowd interrupted him. The Resurrection, or Anastasis, which Paul preached was not then a new deity, but an impossible process through which no man save in fable had ever passed. When the Apostle got thus far the assembly broke up. The idea of a resurrection of a dead man was too much for them. It was too ludicrous for belief. "Some mocked: but others said, We will hear thee again of this matter," and thus ended St. Paul’s address, and thus ended too the Athenian opportunity, for St. Paul soon passed away from such a society of learned triflers and scoffers. They sat in the seat of the scorner, and the seat of the scorner is never a good one for a learner to occupy who wishes to profit. He felt that he had no great work to do in such a place. His opportunity lay where hearts were broken with sin and sorrow, where the burden of life weighed upon the soul, and men heavy laden and sore pressed were longing for a real deliverance and for a higher, nobler life than the world could offer. His work, however, was not all in vain, nor were his personal discussions and his public address devoid of results. The Church of Athens was one of those which could look back to St. Paul as its founder. "Not many wise after the flesh were called" in that city of wisdom and beauty, but some were called, among whom was one of those very judges who sat to investigate the Apostle’s teaching: "But certain clave unto him, and believed: among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them." And this Church thus founded became famous; Dionysius the Areopagite became afterwards a celebrated man, because his name was attached some five centuries later to a notorious forgery which has played no small part in later Christian history. Dionysius was the first bishop of the Athenian Church according to the testimony of another Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, who lived in the middle of the second century, while persons were yet living who could remember the Areopagite. He was succeeded by Publius, who presided over the Church at an important period of its existence. The Emperor Hadrian came to Athens, and was charmed with it about the year 125 A.D. At that time the Athenian Church must have included among its members several learned men; for the two earliest "Apologies" in defence of Christianity were produced by it. The Athenian Church had just then been purified by the fiery trials of persecution.

Quadratus and Aristides stood forth to plead its cause before the Emperor. Of Quadratus and his work we know but little. Eusebius, the great Church historian, had, however, seen it, and gives us ("H.E.," 4:3) a brief abstract of it, appealing to the miracles of our Saviour, and stating that some of the dead whom Christ had raised had lived to his own time. While as for Aristides, the other apologist, his work, after lying hidden from the sight of Christendom, was printed and published last year, as we have told in the former volume of this commentary. That "Apology" of Aristides has much important teaching for us, as we have there tried to show. There is one point, however, to which we did not allude. The "Apology" of Aristides shows us that the Athenian Church accepted in the fullest degree and preserved the great Pauline doctrine of the freedom and catholic nature of Christianity. In the year 125 Judaism and Christianity were still struggling together within the Church in other places; but at Athens they had clean separated the one from the other. Till that year no one but a circumcised Jewish Christian had ever presided over the Mother Church of Jerusalem, which sixty years after the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul preserved exactly the same attitude as in the days of James the Just. The Church of Athens, on the other hand, as a thoroughly Gentile Church, had from the first enjoyed the ministry of Dionysius the Areopagite, a Gentile of culture and education. He had been attracted by the broad liberal teaching of the Apostle in his address upon Mars’ Hill, enunciating a religion free from all narrow national limitations. He embraced this catholic teaching with his whole heart, and transmitted it to his successors, so that when some seventy years later a learned Athenian stood forth in the person of Aristides, to explain the doctrines of the Church, contrasting them with the errors and mistakes of all other nations, Aristides does not spare even the Jews. He praises them indeed when compared with the pagans, who had erred on the primary questions of morals; but he blames them because they had not reached the final and absolute position occupied by the Christians. Listen to the words of Aristides which proclaim the true Pauline doctrine taught in St. Paul’s sermons, re-echoed by the Epistles, "Nevertheless the Jews too have gone astray from accurate knowledge, and they suppose in their minds that they are serving God, but in the methods of their service, their service is to angels and not to God, in that they observe Sabbaths and new moons, and the passover, and the great fast, and the fast and circumcision, and cleanness of meats," words which sound exactly the same note and embody the same conception as St. Paul in his indignant language to the Galatians: [Galatians 4:9-11] "Now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known of God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labour upon you in vain."

St. Paul did not stay long at Athens. Five or six weeks perhaps, two months at most, was probably the length of his visit, time enough just for his Beroean guides to go back to their own city two hundred miles away, and forward their message to Thessalonica fifty miles distant, desiring Timothy and Silas to come to him. Timothy, doubtless, soon started upon his way, tarried with the Apostle for a little, and then returned to Thessalonica, as we learn from 1 Thessalonians 3:1 : "When we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timothy to establish you and comfort you." And now he was again all alone in that scoffing city where neither the religious, moral, nor intellectual atmosphere could have been pleasing to a man like St. Paul. He quitted Athens therefore and came to Corinth. In that city he laboured for a period of a year and a half at least; and yet the record of his brief visit to Athens, unsuccessful as it was so far as immediate results are concerned, is much longer than the record of his prolonged work in Corinth.

Now if we were writing a life of St. Paul instead of a commentary on the history told us in the Acts, we should be able to supplement the brief narrative of the historical book with the ample details contained in the Epistles of St. Paul, especially the two Epistles written to Corinth itself, which illustrate the life of the Apostle, his work at Corinth, and the state of the Corinthians themselves prior and subsequent to their conversion. A consideration of these points would, however, lead me to intrude on the sphere of the commentator on the Corinthian Epistles, and demand an amount of space which we cannot afford. In addition, the three great biographies of St. Paul to which we have so often referred-Lewin’s, Farrar’s, and that of Conybeare and Howson-treat this subject at such great length and with such a profusion of archaeological learning as practically leave a fresh writer nothing new to say in this direction. Let us, however, look briefly at the record in the Acts of St. Paul’s work in Corinth, viewing it from the expositor’s point of view. St. Paul went from Athens to Corinth discouraged, it may have been, by the results of his Athenian labours. Opposition never frightened St. Paul; but learned carelessness, haughty contemptuous indifference to his Divine message, the outcome of a spirit devoid of any true spiritual life, quenched his ardour, chilled his enthusiasm. He must indeed have been sorely repelled by Athens when he set out all alone for the great capital of Achaia, the wicked, immoral, debased city of Corinth. When He came thither he united himself with Aquila, a Jew of Pontus, and Priscilla, his wife, because they were members of the same craft. They had been lately expelled from Rome, and, like the Apostle, were tent-makers: for convenience’ sake therefore, and to save expense, they all lodged together. Here again St. Paul experienced the wisdom of his father’s training and of the Rabbinical law, which thus made him in Corinth, as before in Thessalonica, thoroughly independent of all external circumstances, and able with his own hands to minister to his body’s wants. And it was a fortunate thing too for the gospel’s sake: that he was able to do so. St. Paul never permits anyone to think for a moment that the claim of Christ’s ministry for a fitting support is a doubtful one. He expressly teaches again and again, as in 1 Corinthians 9:1-27., that it is the Scriptural as well as rational duty of the people to contribute according to their means to the maintenance of Christ’s public ministry. But there were certain circumstances at Thessalonica, and above all at Corinth, which made St. Paul waive his just claim and even cramp, limit, and confine his exertions, by imposing on himself the work of earning his daily food. Thessalonica and Corinth had immense Jewish populations. The Jews were notorious in that age as furnishing the greatest number of impostors, quack magicians, and every other kind of agency which traded upon human credulity for the purpose of gain.

St. Paul was determined that neither Jew nor Gentile in either place should be able to hinder the work of the gospel by accusing him of self-seeking or covetous purposes. For this purpose he united with Aquila and Priscilla in working: at their common trade as tentmakers, employing the Sabbath days in debating after the usual fashion in the Jewish synagogues; and upon ordinary days improving the hours during which his hands laboured upon the coarse hair cloth of which tents were made, either in expounding: to his fellow-workmen the glorious news which he proclaimed or else in meditating upon the trials of his converts in Macedonia, or perhaps, most of all, in that perpetual communion with God, that never-ceasing intercession for which he ever found room and time in the secret chambers of the soul. St. Paul’s intercessions, as we read of them in his Epistles, were immense. Intercessory prayers for his individual converts are frequently mentioned by him. It would have been impossible for a man so hard. pressed with labours of every kind, temporal and spiritual, to find place for them all in formal prayers if St. Paul did not cultivate the habit of ceaseless communion with his Father in heaven, perpetually bringing before God those cases and persons which lay dearest to his heart. This habit of secret prayer must be the explanation of St. Paul’s widespread intercessions, and for this reason. He commends the same practice again and again to his converts. "Pray without ceasing" is his language to the Thessalonians. [1 Thessalonians 5:17] Now this could not mean, prolong your private devotions to an inordinate length, because great numbers of his converts were slaves who were not masters of their time. But it does mean cultivate a perpetual sense of God’s presence and of your own communion with Him, which will turn life and its busiest work into a season of refreshing prayer and untiring intercession.

Meanwhile, according to Acts 18:5, Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, bringing contributions for the Apostle’s support, which enabled him to fling himself entirely into ministerial and evangelistic work. This renewed activity soon told. St. Paul had no longer to complain of contemptuous or listless conduct, as at Athens. He experienced at Jewish hands in Corinth exactly the same treatment as at Thessalonica and Beroea. Paul preached that Jesus was the Christ. The Jews blasphemed Him, and called Him accursed. Their attitude became so threatening that Paul was at length compelled to retire from the synagogue, and, separating his disciples, Jews and Gentiles alike, he withdrew to the house of one Justus, a man whose Latin name bespeaks his Western origin, who lived next door to the synagogue. Thenceforth he threw himself with all his energy into his work. God too directly encouraged him. The very proximity of the Christian Church to the Jewish Synagogue constituted a special danger to himself personally when he had to deal with fanatical Jews. A heavenly visitor appeared, therefore, to refresh the wearied saint. In his hour of danger and of weakness God’s strength and grace were perfected, and assurance was granted that the Lord had much people in the city of Corinth, and that no harm should happen to him while striving to seek out. and gather God’s sheep that were scattered abroad in the midst of the naughty world of Corinthian life. And the secret vision did not stand alone. External circumstances lent their assistance and support. Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and his family became converts, and were baptised. Gains and Stephanas were important converts gathered from amongst the Gentiles; so important indeed were these three individuals and their families that St. Paul, turned aside from his purely evangelistic and missionary labours and devoted himself to the pastoral work of preparing them for baptism, administering personally that holy sacrament, a duty which he usually left to his assistants, who were not so well qualified for the rough pioneer efforts of controversy, which he had marked out for himself. And so the work went on for a year and a half, till the Jews thought they saw their opportunity for crushing the audacious apostate who was thus making havoc even among the officials of their own organisation, inducing them to join his Nazarene synagogue. Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital, was a Roman province, embracing, broadly speaking, the territory comprised in the modern kingdom of Greece. Like a great many other provinces, and specially like Cyprus, to which we have already called attention, Achaia was at times an imperial, at times a senatorial province. Forty years earlier it was an imperial province. The Acts describes it as just then, that is, about A.D. 53, a senatorial or proconsular province; and Suetonius, an independent Roman historian, confirms this, telling us ("Claud.," 25) that the Emperor Claudius restored it to the senate.

Gallio, a brother of the celebrated philosophic writer Seneca, had been sent to it as proconsul, and the Jews thought they now saw their opportunity. Gallio, whose original and proper name was Annaeus Novatus, was a man distinguished by what in Rome was considered his sweet, gentle, and loving disposition. His reputation may have preceded him, and the Jews of Corinth may have thought that they would play upon his easy-going temper. The Jews, being a very numerous community at Corinth had it of course in their power to prove very unpleasant to any ruler, and specially to one of Gallio’s reputed temper. The Roman governors were invested with tremendous powers; they were absolute despots, in fact, for the time being, and yet they were often very anxious to gain popularity, especially with any troublesome body of their temporary subjects. The Roman proconsuls, in fact, adopted a principle we sometimes see still acted out in political life, as if it were the highest type of statesmanship. They were anxious to gain popularity by gratifying those who made themselves specially obnoxious and raised the loudest cries. They petted the naughty, and they neglected the good. So it was with Pontius Pilate, who perpetrated a judicial murder because it contented the multitude; so it was with Festus, who left an innocent mart in bonds at Caesarea because he desired to gain favour with the Jews; and so too, thought the Jews of Corinth, it would be with Gallio, They arrested the Apostle, therefore, using the messengers of the synagogue for the purpose, and brought him to the proconsular court, where they set him before the bema, or elevated platform, whence the Roman magistrates dispensed justice. Then they laid their formal accusation against him: "This man persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law"; expecting perhaps that he would be remitted by the proconsul to the judgment and discipline of their own domestic tribunal, even as Pilate said to the Jews about our Lord and their accusation against Him: "Take ye Him, and judge Him according to your law." But the philosophic brother of the Stoic Seneca had a profound contempt for these agitating Jews. His Stoic education too had trained him to allow external things as little influence upon the mind as possible. The philosophic apathy which the Stoics cultivated must have more or less affected his whole nature, as he soon showed the Jews; for before the Apostle had time to reply to the charge Gallio burst in contemptuously. If it were a matter of law and order, he declares, it would be right to attend to it; but if your complaint is touching your own national law and customs I will have nothing to say to it. And then he commanded his lictors to clear the court. Thus ended the attempt on St. Paul’s freedom or life, an attempt which was indeed more disastrous to the Jews themselves than to anyone else; for the Gentile mob of Corinth, hating the Jews, and glad to see them balked of their expected prey, seized the chief accuser Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment-seat; while Gallio all the while cared for none of these things, despising the mob, Jew and Gentile alike, and contemptuously pitying them from the height of his philosophic self-contentment. Gallio has been at all times regarded as the type of the mere worldling, who, wrapped in material interests, cares for nothing higher or nobler. But this is scarcely fair to Gallio. The Stoic philosopher was not dead to better things. But he is the type rather of men who, blinded by lower truths and mere intellectual wisdom, are thereby rendered careless of those spiritual matters in which the soul’s true life alone consists. He had so thoroughly cultivated a philosophic contempt for the outside world and its business, the sayings and doings, the joys and the sorrows of the puny mortals who fume and strut and fret their lives away upon this earthly stage, that he lost the opportunity of hearing from the Apostle’s tips of a grander philosophy, a deeper contentment, of a truer, more satisfying peace than was ever dreamt of in stoical speculation. And this type of man is not extinct. Philosophy, science, art, literature, politics, they are all great facts, all offer vast fields for human activity, and all may serve for a time so thoroughly to content and satisfy man’s inner being as to render him careless of that life in Christ which alone abideth for evermore.

The attempt of the Jews marked the termination of St. Paul’s work in Corinth. It was at least the beginning of the end. He had now laboured longer in Corinth than anywhere else since he started out from Antioch. He had organised and consolidated the Church, as we can see from his Corinthian Epistles, and now he longed once more to visit his old friends, and report what God had wrought by his means during his long absence. He tarried, therefore, yet a while, visiting doubtless, the various Churches which he had established throughout all the province of Achaia, and then, accompanied by a few companions, set sail for Syria, to declare the results of his eventful mission, taking Ephesus on his way. This was his first visit to that great city, and he was probably led to pay it owing to the commercial necessities of Aquila. Life’s actions and deeds, even in the case of an apostle, are moulded by very little things. A glance, a chance word, a passing courtesy, forgotten as soon as done, and life is very different from what it otherwise would have been. And so, too, the tent-making and tent-selling of Aquila brought Paul to Ephesus, shaped the remainder of his career, and endowed the Church with the rich spiritual heritage of the teaching imparted to the Ephesian disciples by word and epistle.


Verses 19-21

Chapter 14

THE EPHESIAN CHURCH AND ITS FOUNDATION.

Acts 18:19-21; Acts 18:24-26; Acts 19:1

EPHESUS has been from very ancient times a distinguished city. It was famous in the religious history of Asia Minor in times long prior to the Christian Era. It was celebrated at the time of the Roman Empire as the chief seat of the worship of Diana and of the magical practices associated with that worship; and Ephesus became more celebrated still in Christian times as the city where one of the great Œcumenical Councils was held which served to determine the expression of the Church’s faith in her Divine Lord and Master. It must then be of great interest to the Christian student to note the first beginnings of such a vast transformation as that whereby a chief seat of pagan idolatry was turned into a special stronghold of Christian orthodoxy. Let us then devote this chapter to tracing the upgrowth of the Ephesian Church, and to noting the lessons the modern Church may derive therefrom.

St. Paul terminated his work in Corinth some time about the middle or towards the close of the year 53 A.D. In the early summer of that year Gallio came as proconsul to Achaia, and the Jewish riot was raised. After a due interval, to show that he was not driven out by Jewish machinations, St. Paul determined to return once more to Jerusalem and Antioch, which he had left some four years at least before. He went down therefore to Cenchreae, the port of departure for passengers going from Corinth to Ephesus, Asia Minor, and Syria. A Christian Church had been established there by the exertions of St. Paul or some of his Corinthian disciples. As soon as an early Christian was turned from sin to righteousness, from the adoration of idols to the worship of the true God, he began to try and do something for Him whose love and grace he had experienced. It was no wonder that the Church then spread rapidly when all its individual members were instinct with life, and every one considered himself personally responsible to labour diligently for God. The Church of Cenchreae was elaborately organised. It had not only its deacons, it had also its deaconesses, one of whom, Phoebe, was specially kind and useful to St. Paul upon his visits to that busy seaport, and is by him commended to the help and care of the Roman Church. [Romans 16:1-2]

From Cenchreae St. Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla sailed for Ephesus, where, as we have already hinted, it is most likely the latter pair had some special business avocations which led them to stay at that city. They may have been large manufacturers of tents, and have had a branch establishment at Ephesus, which was then a great mercantile emporium for that part of Asia Minor.

An incidental remark of the sacred writer "having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow," has raised a controverted question. Some refer this expression to Aquila, and I think with much the greater probability. It was customary with the Jews at that time when in any special danger to take a temporary Nazarite vow, binding themselves to abstain from wine and from cutting their hair till a certain definite period had elapsed. Then when the fixed date had arrived, the hair was cut off and preserved till it could be burned in the fire of a sacrifice offered up at Jerusalem upon the individual’s next visit to the Holy City. The grammatical order of the words naturally refer to Aquila as the maker of this vow; but I cannot agree in one reason urged for this latter theory. Some have argued that it was impossible for Paul to have made this vow; that it would, in fact, have been a return to the bondage of Judaism, which would have been utterly inconsistent on his part. People who argue thus do not understand St. Paul’s position with respect to Jewish rites as being things utterly unimportant, and, as such, things which a wise born Jew would do well to observe in order to please his countrymen. If St. Paul made a vow at Corinth it would have been simply an illustration of his own. principle, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order that I might gain the Jews." But further, I must say that the taking of a vow, though derived from Judaism, need not have necessarily appeared to St. Paul and the men of his time a purely Jewish ceremony. Vows, in fact, naturally passed over from Judaism to Christianity. Vows, indeed, of this peculiar character, and with this peculiar external sign of long hair, are no longer customary amongst Christians; but surely special vows cannot be said to have gone out of fashion, when we consider the wide spread of the teetotal movement, with its vows identical in one important element with that of the Nazarites! But viewing the matter from a still wider standpoint, people, when contending thus, forget what a large part the tradition of ancient customs must have played in the life, manners, and customs of St. Paul. All his early life he was a strict Pharisaic Jew, and down to the end of life his early training must have largely modified his habits. To take but one instance, pork was the common and favourite food of the Romans at this period. Now I am sure that St. Paul would have vigorously resisted all attempts to prevent the Gentile Christians eating bacon or ham; but I should not be in the least surprised if St. Paul, trained in Pharisaic habits, never once touched a food he had been taught to abhor from his earliest youth. Life is a continuous thing, and the memories of the past are very powerful. We can to this day trace among ourselves many customs and traditions dating back to the times antecedent to the Reformation, and much farther. The fires still lighted on St. John’s Eve throughout Ireland, and once customary in Scotland, are survivals of the times of Druidical paganism in these islands. The ceremonies and social customs of Shrove Tuesday and Hallow E’en are survivals of the rude mirth of our pre-Reformation forefathers, on the nights before a celebrated fast, Ash Wednesday, in one case, before a celebrated feast, All Saints’ Day, in the other. Or perhaps I may take another instance more closely analogous still which every reader can verify for himself. The use of the Church of England has to this day a curious instance of the power of tradition as opposed to written law. There is a general rubric placed in the Book of Common Prayer before the first Lord’s Prayer. It runs as follows: "Then the minister shall kneel and say the Lord’s Prayer with an audible voice; the people also kneeling and repeating it with him, both here, and wheresoever else it is used in Divine Service." This rubric plainly prescribes that clergy and people shall always say the Lord’s Prayer conjointly. And yet, let my readers go into any church of the Anglican Communion on Sunday next, I care not what the tone of its theological thought, and observe the first Lord’s Prayer used at the beginning of the Communion Service. They will find that this general rubric is universally neglected, and the celebrating priest says the opening Lord’s Prayer by himself with no voice of the people raised to accompany him. Now whence comes this universal fact? It is simply an illustration of the strength of tradition. It is a survival of the practice before the Reformation handed down by tradition to the present time, and overriding a positive and written law. In the days before the Reformation, as in the Roman Catholic Church of the present day, the opening Dominical or Lord’s Prayer in the Mass was said by the priest alone. When the service was translated into English the old custom still prevailed, and has lasted to the present day. This was only human nature, which abhors unnecessary changes, and is intensely conservative of every practice which is linked with the fond memories of the past. This human nature was found strong in St. Paul, as in other men, and it would have argued no moral or spiritual weakness, no desire to play fast and loose with gospel liberties, had he, instead of Aquila, resorted to the old Jewish practice and bound himself by a vow in connection with some special blessing which he had received, or some special danger he had incurred. When we are studying the Acts we must never forget that Judaism gave the tone and form, the whole outer framework to Christianity, even as England gave the outward shape and form to the constitutions of the United States and her own numberless colonies throughout the world. St. Paul did not invent a brand-new religion, as some people think; he changed as little as possible, so that his own practice and worship must have been to mere pagan eyes exactly the same as that of the Jews, as indeed we might conclude beforehand from the fact that the Roman authorities seem to have viewed the Christians as a mere Jewish sect down to the close of the second century.

I. Let us now take a rapid survey of the extensive journey which our book disposes of in very concise fashion. St. Paul and his companions, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and Silas, sailed from Cenchreae to Ephesus, which city up to this seems to have been untouched by Christian influences. St. Paul, in the earlier portion of his second tour, had been prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching in Ephesus, or in any portion of the provinces of Asia or Bithynia. Important as the human eye of St. Paul may have viewed them, still the Divine Guide of the Church saw that neither Asia nor Bithynia, with all their magnificent cities, their accumulated wealth, and their political position, were half so important as the cities and provinces of Europe, viewed from the standpoint of the world’s conversion. But now the gospel has secured a substantial foothold in Europe, has taken a firm grasp of that imperial race which then ruled the world, and so the Apostle is permitted to visit Ephesus for the first time. He seems to have then paid a mere passing visit to it, lasting perhaps while the ship discharged the portion of her cargo destined for Ephesus. But St. Paul never allowed time to hang heavy on his hands for want of employment. He left Aquila and Priscilla engaged in their mercantile transactions, and, entering himself into the principal synagogue, proceeded to expound his views. These do not seem to have then aroused any opposition; nay, the Jews even went so far as to desire him to tarry longer and open out his doctrines at greater length. We may conclude from this that St. Paul did not remain during this first visit much beyond one Sabbath day. If he had bestowed a second Sabbath day upon the Ephesian synagogue, his ideas and doctrines would have been made so clear and manifest that the Jews would not have required much further exposition in order to see their drift. St. Paul, after promising a second visit to them, left his old friends and associates, Aquila and his wife, with whom he had lived for nearly two years, at Ephesus, and pushed on to Casarea, a town which he must have already well known, and with which he was subsequently destined to make a long and unpleasant acquaintanceship, arriving at Jerusalem in time probably for the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated on September 16, A.D. 53. Concerning the details of that visit we know nothing. Four years at least must have elapsed since he had seen James and the other venerated heads of the Mother Church. We can imagine then how joyously he would have told them, how eagerly they would have heard the glad story of the wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through the power of Jesus Christ. After a short sojourn at Jerusalem St. Paul turned back to Caesarea, and thence went on to Antioch, the original seat of the Gentile mission for the propagation of the faith. After refreshing himself with the kindly offices of fraternal intercourse and conversation at this great Christian centre, where broad liberal sentiment and wide Christian culture, free from any narrow prejudices, must have infused a tone into society far more agreeable to St. Paul than the unprogressive Judaising views which flourished in Jerusalem, St. Paul then determined to set off upon his third great tour, which must have begun, at the earliest, some time in the spring of A.D. 54, as soon as the snows of winter had passed away and the passes through the Taurus Range into the central regions of Asia Minor had been opened. We know nothing more concerning the extended journey he took on this occasion. He seems to have avoided towns like Lystra and Derbe, and to have directed his march straight to Galatia, where he had sufficient work to engage all his thought. We have no mention of the names of the particular Churches where he laboured. Ancyra, as it was then called, Angora as it is now named, in all probability demanded St. Paul’s attention. If he visited it, he looked as the traveller does still upon the temple dedicated to the deity of Augustus and of Rome, the ruins of which have attracted the notice of every modern antiquary. Glad, however, as we should have been to gratify our curiosity by details like these, we are obliged to content ourselves with the information which St. Luke gives us, that St. Paul "went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, in order, stablishing all the disciples," leaving us a speaking example of the energising power, the invigorating effects, of a visitation such as St. Paul now conducted, sustaining the weak, arousing the careless, restraining the rash, guiding the whole body of the Church with the counsels of sanctified wisdom and heavenly prudence. Then, after his Phrygian and Galatian work was finished, St. Paul betook himself to a field which he long since desired to occupy, and determined to fulfil the promise made a year previously at least to his Jewish friends of the Ephesian Synagogue.

II. Now we come to the foundation of the Ephesian Church some time in the latter part of the year 54 A.D. Here it may strike some reader as an extraordinary thing that more than twenty years after the Crucifixion Ephesus was as yet totally untouched by the gospel; so that the tidings of salvation were quite a novel sound in the great Asiatic capital. People sometimes think of the primitive Church as if, after the Day of Pentecost, every individual Christian rushed off to preach in the most distant parts of the world, and that the whole earth was evangelised straight off. They forget the teaching of Christ about the gospel leaven, and leaven never works all on a heap as it were; it is slow, regular, progressive in its operations. The tradition, too, that the apostles did not leave Jerusalem till twelve years after His ascension ought to be a sufficient corrective of this false notion; and though this tradition may not have any considerable historical basis, yet it shows that the primitive Church did not cherish the very modern idea that enormous and immediate successes followed upon the preaching of the gospel after Pentecost, and that the conversion of vast populations at once occurred. The case was exactly contrary. For many a long year nothing at all was done towards the conversion of the Gentile world, and then for many another long year the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles entirely depended upon St. Paul alone. He was the one evangelist of the Gentiles, and therefore it is no wonder he should. have said in 1 Corinthians 1:7, "Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel." He was the one man fitted to deal with the prejudices, the ignorance, the sensuality, the grossness with which the Gentile world was overspread, and therefore no other work, no matter how important, was to be allowed to interfere with that one task which he alone could perform. This seems to me the explanation of the question which might otherwise cause some difficulty, how was it that the Ephesians, Jews and Gentiles alike, inhabiting this distinguished city, were still in such dire ignorance of the gospel message twenty years after the Ascension? Now let us come to the story of the circumstances amid which Ephesian Christianity took its rise. St. Paul, as we have already said, paid a passing visit to Ephesus just a year before when going up to Jerusalem, when he seems to have made a considerable impression in the synagogue. He left behind him Aquila and Priscilla, who, with their household, formed a small Christian congregation, meeting doubtless for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in their own house while yet frequenting the stated worship of the synagogue. This we conclude from the following circumstance, which is expressly mentioned in Acts 18:26. Apollos, a Jew, born in Alexandria, and a learned man, as was natural coming from that great centre of Greek and Oriental culture, came to Ephesus. He had been baptised by some of John’s disciples, either at Alexandria or in Palestine. It may very possibly have been at Alexandria. St. John’s doctrines and followers may have spread to Alexandria by that time, as we are expressly informed they had been diffused as far as Ephesus. [Acts 19:1-4] Apollos, when he came to Ephesus, entered, like St. Paul, into the synagogue, and "spake and taught carefully the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John." He knew about Jesus Christ, but with an imperfect knowledge such merely as John himself possessed. This man began to speak boldly in the synagogue on the topic of the Messiah whom John had preached. Aquila and Priscilla were present in the synagogue, heard the disputant, recognised his earnestness and his defects, and then, having taken him, expounded to him the way of God more fully, initiating him into the full mysteries of the faith by baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This incident has an important bearing upon the foundation and development of the Ephesian Church, but it bears more directly still upon the point on which we have been dwelling. Apollos disputed in the synagogues where Aquila and Priscilla heard him, so that they must have been regular worshippers there, notwithstanding their Christian profession and their close intercourse with St. Paul for more than eighteen months. After a little time further, Apollos desired to pass over to Greece. The little Christian Church which met at Aquila’s house told him of the wonders they had seen and heard in Achaia and of the flourishing state of the Church in Corinth. They gave him letters commendatory to that Church, whither Apollos passed over, and rendered such valuable help that his name a year or two later became one of the watchwords of Corinthian party strife. The way was now prepared for St. Paul’s great mission to Ephesus, exceeding in length any mission he had hitherto conducted, surpassing in its duration of three years the time spent even at Corinth itself. His own brief visit of the year before, the visit and work of the Alexandrian Jew, the quiet conversations, the holy lives, the sanctified examples of Aquila and Priscilla, these had done the preliminary work. They had roused expectation, provoked discussion, developed thought. Everything was ready for the great masterful teacher to step upon the ground and complete the work which he had already so auspiciously begun.

I do not propose to discuss the roads by which St. Paul may have travelled through the province of Asia on this eventful visit, nor to discuss the architectural features, or the geographical position of the city of Ephesus. These things I shall leave to the writers who have treated of St. Paul’s life. I now confine myself to the notices inserted by St. Luke concerning the Apostle’s Ephesian work, and about it I note that upon his arrival St. Paul came in contact with a small congregation of the disciples of John the Baptist, who had hitherto escaped the notice of the small Church existing at Ephesus. This need not excite our wonder. We are apt to think that because Christianity is now such a dominant element in our own intellectual and religious atmosphere it must always have been the same. Ephesus, too, was then an immense city, with a large population of Jews, who may have had many synagogues. These few disciples of John the Baptist may have worshipped in a synagogue which never heard of the brief visit of a Cilician Jew, a teacher named Saul of Tarsus, much less of the quiet efforts of Aquila and Priscilla, the tentmakers, lately come from Corinth. St. Paul, on his second visit, soon came in contact with these men. He at once asked them a question which tested their position and attainments in the Divine life, and sheds for us a vivid light upon apostolic doctrine and practice. "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" is plainly an inquiry whether they had enjoyed the blessing connected with the solemn imposition of hands, from which has been derived the rite of confirmation, as I showed in the previous Part. The disciples soon revealed the imperfect character of their religion by their reply: "Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was," words which led St. Paul to demand what in that case was the nature of their baptism. "Into what then were ye baptised?" and they said, "Into John’s baptism."

Now the simple explanation of the disciples’ ignorance was that they had been baptised with John’s baptism, which had no reference to or mention of the Holy Ghost. St. Paul, understanding them to be baptised disciples, could not understand their ignorance of the personal existence and present power of the Holy Ghost, till he learned from them the nature of their baptism, and then his surprise ceased. But then we must observe that the question of the Apostle astonished at their defective state - "Into what then were ye baptised?" - implies that, if baptised with Christian baptism, they would have known of the existence of the Holy Ghost, and therefore further implies that the baptismal formula into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was of universal application among Christians; for surely if this formula were not universally used by the Church, many Christians might be in exactly the same position as these disciples of John, and never have heard of the Holy Ghost! St. Paul, having expounded the difference between the inchoate, imperfect, beginning knowledge, of the Baptist, and the richer, fuller teaching of Jesus Christ, then handed them over for further preparation to his assistants, by whom, after due fasting and prayer, they were baptised, and at once presented to the Apostle for the imposition of hands; when the Holy Ghost was vouchsafed in present effects, "they spake with tongues and prophesied," as if to sanction in a special manner the decided action taken by the Apostle on this occasion.

The details concerning this affair, given to us by the sacred writer, are most important. They set forth at greater length and with larger fulness the methods ordinarily used by the Apostle than on other similar occasions. The Philippian jailor was converted and baptised, but we read nothing of the imposition of hands. Dionysius and Damaris, Aquila and Priscilla, and many others at Athens and Corinth were converted, but there is no mention of either baptism or any other holy rite. It might have been very possible to argue that the silence of the writer implied utter contempt of the sacraments of the gospel and the rite of confirmation on these occasions, were it not that we have this detailed account of the manner in which St. Paul dealt with half-instructed, unbaptised, and unconfirmed disciples of Christ Jesus. They were instructed, baptised, and confirmed, and thus introduced into the fulness of blessing required by the discipline of the Lord, as ministered by His faithful servant. If this were the routine observed with those who had been taught "carefully the things of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John," how much more would it have been the case of those rescued out of the pollutions of paganism and called into the kingdom of light!

III. After this favourable beginning, and seeing the borders of the infant Church extended by the union of these twelve disciples, St. Paul, after his usual fashion, flung himself into work amongst the Jews of Ephesus upon whom he had previously made a favourable impression. He was well received for a time. He continued for three months "reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God." But, as it was elsewhere, so was it at Ephesus, the offence of the Cross told in the long run upon the worshippers of the synagogue. The original Christian Church was Jewish. Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos and Timothy, and the disciples of John the Baptist would have excited no resentment in the minds of the Jews; but when St. Paul began to open out the hope which lay for Gentiles as well as for Jews in the gospel which he preached, then the objections of the synagogue were multiplied, riots and disturbances became, as elsewhere, matters of daily occurrence, and the opposition became at last so bitter that as at Corinth, so here again at Ephesus, the Apostle was obliged to separate his own followers, and gather them into the school of one Tyrannus, a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric, whom perhaps he had converted, where the blasphemous denunciations against the Divine Way which he taught could no longer be heard. In this school or lecture-hall St. Paul continued labouring for more than two years, bestowing upon the city of Ephesus a longer period of continuous labour than he ever vouchsafed to any place else. We have St. Paul’s own statement as to his method of life at this period in the address he subsequently delivered to the elders of Ephesus. The Apostle pursued at Ephesus the same course which he adopted at Corinth, in one important direction at least. He supported himself and his immediate companions, Timothy and Sosthenes, by his own labour, and that we may presume for precisely the same reason at Ephesus as at Corinth. He desired to cut off all occasion of accusation against himself. Ephesus was a city devoted to commerce and to magic. It was full of impostors too, many of them Jewish, who made gain out of the names of angels and magical formulae derived from the pretended wisdom of Solomon handed down to them by secret succession, or derived by them from contact with the lands of the far distant East. St. Paul determined, therefore, that he would give no opportunity of charging him with trading upon the credulity of his followers, or working with an eye to covetous or dishonest gains. "I coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," is the description he gave of the manner in which he discharged his apostolic office in Ephesus, when addressing the elders of that city. We can thus trace St. Paul labouring at his trade as a tentmaker for nearly a period of five years, combining the time spent at Ephesus with that spent at Corinth. Notwithstanding, however, the attention and energy which this exercise of his trade demanded, he found time for enormous evangelistic and pastoral work. In fact, we find St. Paul nowhere else so much occupied with pastoral work as at Ephesus. Elsewhere we see the devoted evangelist, rushing in with the pioneers, breaking down all hindrances, heading the stormers to whom were committed the fiercest struggle, the most deadly conflict, and then at once moving into fresh conflicts, leaving the spoils of victory and the calmer work of peaceful pastoral labours to others. But here in Ephesus we see St. Paul’s marvellous power of adaptation. He is at one hour a clever artisan, capable of gaining support sufficient for others as well as for himself; then he is the skilful controversialist "reasoning daily in the school of one Tyrannus"; and then he is the indefatigable pastor of souls "teaching publicly, and from house to house," and "ceasing not to admonish every one night and day with tears."

But this was not all, or nearly all, the burden the apostle carried. He had to be perpetually on the alert against Jewish plots. We hear nothing directly of Jewish attempts on his life or liberty during the period of just three years which he spent on this prolonged visit. We might be sure, however, from our previous experience of the synagogues, that he must have run no small danger in this direction; but then when we turn to the same address we hear something of them. He is recalling to the minds of the Ephesian elders the circumstances of his life in their community from the beginning, and he therefore appeals thus: "Ye yourselves know from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me with plots of the Jews." Ephesus again was a great field wherein he personally worked; it was also a great centre for missionary operations which he superintended. It was the capital of the province of Asia, the richest and most important of all the Roman provinces, teeming with resources, abounding in highly civilised and populous cities, connected with one another by an elaborate network of admirably constructed roads. Ephesus was cut out by nature and by art alike as a missionary centre whence the gospel should radiate out into all the surrounding districts. And so it did. "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks," is the testimony of St. Luke with respect to the wondrous progress of the gospel, not in Ephesus alone, but also throughout all the province, a statement which we find corroborated a little lower down in the same nineteenth chapter by the independent testimony of Demetrius the silversmith, who, when he was endeavouring to stir up his fellow-craftsmen to active exertions in defence of their endangered trade, says, "Ye see and hear that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people." St. Paul’s disciples laboured, too, in the other cities of Asia, as Epaphras, for instance, in Colossae. And St. Paul himself, we may be certain, bestowed the Lifts and blessings of his apostolic office by visiting these local Churches, as far as he could consistently with the pressing character of his engagements in Ephesus. But even the superintendence of vast missions throughout the province of Asia did not exhaust the prodigious labours of St. Paul. He perpetually bore about in his bosom anxious thoughts for the welfare, trials, and sorrows of the numerous Churches he had established in Europe and Asia alike. He was constant in prayers for them, mentioning the individual members by name, and he was unwearied in keeping up communications with them, either by verbal messages or by written epistles, one specimen of which remains in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, written to them from Ephesus, and showing us the minute care, the comprehensive interest, the intense sympathy which dwelt within his breast with regard to his distant converts all the while that the work at Ephesus, controversial, evangelistic, and pastoral, to say nothing at all of his tent making, was making the most tremendous demands on body and soul alike, and apparently absorbing all his attention. It is only when we thus realise bit by bit what the weak, delicate, emaciated Apostle must have been doing, that we are able to grasp the full meaning of his own words to the Corinthians: "Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the Churches."

This lengthened period of intense activity of mind and body terminated in an incident which illustrates the peculiar character of St. Paul’s Ephesian ministry. Ephesus was a town where the spiritual and moral atmosphere simply reeked with the fumes, ideas, and practices of Oriental paganism, of which the magical incantations formed the predominant feature. Magic prevailed all over the pagan world at this time. In Rome, however, magical practices were always more or less under the ban of public opinion, though at times resorted to by those whose office called upon them to suppress illegal actions. A couple of years before the very time at which we have arrived, workers in magic, among whom were included astrologers, or mathematicians, as the Roman law called them, were banished from Rome simultaneously with the Jews, who always enjoyed an unenviable notoriety for such occult practices. In Asia Minor and the East they flourished at this time under the patronage of religion, and continued to flourish in all the great cities down to Christian times. Christianity itself could not wholly banish magic, which retained its hold upon the half-converted Christians who flocked into the Church in crowds during the second half of the fourth century; and we learn from St. Chrysostom himself, that when a young man he had a narrow escape for his life owing to the continuance of magical practices in Antioch, more than three hundred years after St. Paul. It is no wonder that when Diana’s worship reigned supreme at Ephesus magical practices should also flourish there. If, however, there existed a special development of the power of evil at Ephesus, God also bestowed a special manifestation of Divine power in the person and ministry of St. Paul, as St. Luke expressly declares: "God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul, insomuch that unto the sick were carried away from his body handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits departed from them." This passage has often been found a stumbling-block by many persons. They have thought that it has a certain legendary air about it, as they in turn think there is a certain air of legend about the similar passage in Acts 5:12-16, which makes much the same statement about St. Peter. When writing about this latter passage (Chap. XII above), I offered some suggestions which lessen, if they do not quite take away, the difficulty; to these I shall now only refer my readers. But I think we can see a local reason for the peculiar development or manifestation of miraculous power through St. Paul. The devil’s seat was just then specially at Ephesus, so far as the great province of Asia was concerned. The powers of evil had concentrated all their force and all their wealth of external grandeur, intellectual cleverness, and spiritual trickery in order to lead men captive; and there God, in order that He might secure a more striking victory for truth upon this magnificent stage, armed His faithful servant with an extraordinary development of the good powers of the world to come, enabling him to work special wonders in the sight of the heathen. Can we not read an echo of the fearful struggle just then waged in the metropolis of Asia in words addressed some years later to the members of the same Church, "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places"? We make a great mistake when we think of the Apostles as working miracles when and as they liked. At times their evangelistic work seems to have been conducted without any extraordinary manifestations, and then at other times, when the power of Satan was specially put forth, God displayed His special strength, enabling His servants to work wonders and signs in His name. It was much the same as in the Old Testament. The Old Testament miracles will be found to cluster themselves round the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and its Reformation at the hand of Elijah. So, too, the recorded miracles of the Apostles will be found to gather round St. Peter’s earlier work in Jerusalem, where Satan strove to counter-work God’s designs in one way, and St. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, where Satan strove to counter-work them in another way. One incident at Ephesus attracted special attention. There was a priestly family, consisting of seven sons, belonging to the Jews at Ephesus. Their father had occupied high position among the various courses which in turn served the Temple, even as Zacharias, the father of the Baptist, did. These men observed the power with which St. Paul dealt with human spirits disordered by the powers of evil, using for that purpose the sacred name of Jesus. They undertook to use the same sacred invocation; but it proved, like the censers of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, a strange fire kindled against their own souls. The man possessed by the evil spirit recognised not their presumptuous efforts, but attacked them, and did them serious bodily injury. This circumstance spread the fame of the man of God wider and wider. The power of magic and of the demons fell before him, even as the image of Dagon fell before the Ark. Many of the nominal believers in Christianity had still retained their magical practices as of yore, even as nominal Christians retained them in the days of St. Chrysostom. The reality of St. Paul’s power, demonstrated by the awful example of Sceva’s sons, smote them in their inmost conscience. They came, confessed their deeds, brought their magical books together, and gave the greatest proof of their honest convictions; for they burned them in the sight of all, and counting the price thereof found it fifty thousand pieces of silver, or more than two thousand pounds of our money. "So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed" in the very chosen seat of the Ephesian Diana.


Verses 24-26

Chapter 14

THE EPHESIAN CHURCH AND ITS FOUNDATION.

Acts 18:19-21; Acts 18:24-26; Acts 19:1

EPHESUS has been from very ancient times a distinguished city. It was famous in the religious history of Asia Minor in times long prior to the Christian Era. It was celebrated at the time of the Roman Empire as the chief seat of the worship of Diana and of the magical practices associated with that worship; and Ephesus became more celebrated still in Christian times as the city where one of the great Œcumenical Councils was held which served to determine the expression of the Church’s faith in her Divine Lord and Master. It must then be of great interest to the Christian student to note the first beginnings of such a vast transformation as that whereby a chief seat of pagan idolatry was turned into a special stronghold of Christian orthodoxy. Let us then devote this chapter to tracing the upgrowth of the Ephesian Church, and to noting the lessons the modern Church may derive therefrom.

St. Paul terminated his work in Corinth some time about the middle or towards the close of the year 53 A.D. In the early summer of that year Gallio came as proconsul to Achaia, and the Jewish riot was raised. After a due interval, to show that he was not driven out by Jewish machinations, St. Paul determined to return once more to Jerusalem and Antioch, which he had left some four years at least before. He went down therefore to Cenchreae, the port of departure for passengers going from Corinth to Ephesus, Asia Minor, and Syria. A Christian Church had been established there by the exertions of St. Paul or some of his Corinthian disciples. As soon as an early Christian was turned from sin to righteousness, from the adoration of idols to the worship of the true God, he began to try and do something for Him whose love and grace he had experienced. It was no wonder that the Church then spread rapidly when all its individual members were instinct with life, and every one considered himself personally responsible to labour diligently for God. The Church of Cenchreae was elaborately organised. It had not only its deacons, it had also its deaconesses, one of whom, Phoebe, was specially kind and useful to St. Paul upon his visits to that busy seaport, and is by him commended to the help and care of the Roman Church. [Romans 16:1-2]

From Cenchreae St. Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla sailed for Ephesus, where, as we have already hinted, it is most likely the latter pair had some special business avocations which led them to stay at that city. They may have been large manufacturers of tents, and have had a branch establishment at Ephesus, which was then a great mercantile emporium for that part of Asia Minor.

An incidental remark of the sacred writer "having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow," has raised a controverted question. Some refer this expression to Aquila, and I think with much the greater probability. It was customary with the Jews at that time when in any special danger to take a temporary Nazarite vow, binding themselves to abstain from wine and from cutting their hair till a certain definite period had elapsed. Then when the fixed date had arrived, the hair was cut off and preserved till it could be burned in the fire of a sacrifice offered up at Jerusalem upon the individual’s next visit to the Holy City. The grammatical order of the words naturally refer to Aquila as the maker of this vow; but I cannot agree in one reason urged for this latter theory. Some have argued that it was impossible for Paul to have made this vow; that it would, in fact, have been a return to the bondage of Judaism, which would have been utterly inconsistent on his part. People who argue thus do not understand St. Paul’s position with respect to Jewish rites as being things utterly unimportant, and, as such, things which a wise born Jew would do well to observe in order to please his countrymen. If St. Paul made a vow at Corinth it would have been simply an illustration of his own. principle, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order that I might gain the Jews." But further, I must say that the taking of a vow, though derived from Judaism, need not have necessarily appeared to St. Paul and the men of his time a purely Jewish ceremony. Vows, in fact, naturally passed over from Judaism to Christianity. Vows, indeed, of this peculiar character, and with this peculiar external sign of long hair, are no longer customary amongst Christians; but surely special vows cannot be said to have gone out of fashion, when we consider the wide spread of the teetotal movement, with its vows identical in one important element with that of the Nazarites! But viewing the matter from a still wider standpoint, people, when contending thus, forget what a large part the tradition of ancient customs must have played in the life, manners, and customs of St. Paul. All his early life he was a strict Pharisaic Jew, and down to the end of life his early training must have largely modified his habits. To take but one instance, pork was the common and favourite food of the Romans at this period. Now I am sure that St. Paul would have vigorously resisted all attempts to prevent the Gentile Christians eating bacon or ham; but I should not be in the least surprised if St. Paul, trained in Pharisaic habits, never once touched a food he had been taught to abhor from his earliest youth. Life is a continuous thing, and the memories of the past are very powerful. We can to this day trace among ourselves many customs and traditions dating back to the times antecedent to the Reformation, and much farther. The fires still lighted on St. John’s Eve throughout Ireland, and once customary in Scotland, are survivals of the times of Druidical paganism in these islands. The ceremonies and social customs of Shrove Tuesday and Hallow E’en are survivals of the rude mirth of our pre-Reformation forefathers, on the nights before a celebrated fast, Ash Wednesday, in one case, before a celebrated feast, All Saints’ Day, in the other. Or perhaps I may take another instance more closely analogous still which every reader can verify for himself. The use of the Church of England has to this day a curious instance of the power of tradition as opposed to written law. There is a general rubric placed in the Book of Common Prayer before the first Lord’s Prayer. It runs as follows: "Then the minister shall kneel and say the Lord’s Prayer with an audible voice; the people also kneeling and repeating it with him, both here, and wheresoever else it is used in Divine Service." This rubric plainly prescribes that clergy and people shall always say the Lord’s Prayer conjointly. And yet, let my readers go into any church of the Anglican Communion on Sunday next, I care not what the tone of its theological thought, and observe the first Lord’s Prayer used at the beginning of the Communion Service. They will find that this general rubric is universally neglected, and the celebrating priest says the opening Lord’s Prayer by himself with no voice of the people raised to accompany him. Now whence comes this universal fact? It is simply an illustration of the strength of tradition. It is a survival of the practice before the Reformation handed down by tradition to the present time, and overriding a positive and written law. In the days before the Reformation, as in the Roman Catholic Church of the present day, the opening Dominical or Lord’s Prayer in the Mass was said by the priest alone. When the service was translated into English the old custom still prevailed, and has lasted to the present day. This was only human nature, which abhors unnecessary changes, and is intensely conservative of every practice which is linked with the fond memories of the past. This human nature was found strong in St. Paul, as in other men, and it would have argued no moral or spiritual weakness, no desire to play fast and loose with gospel liberties, had he, instead of Aquila, resorted to the old Jewish practice and bound himself by a vow in connection with some special blessing which he had received, or some special danger he had incurred. When we are studying the Acts we must never forget that Judaism gave the tone and form, the whole outer framework to Christianity, even as England gave the outward shape and form to the constitutions of the United States and her own numberless colonies throughout the world. St. Paul did not invent a brand-new religion, as some people think; he changed as little as possible, so that his own practice and worship must have been to mere pagan eyes exactly the same as that of the Jews, as indeed we might conclude beforehand from the fact that the Roman authorities seem to have viewed the Christians as a mere Jewish sect down to the close of the second century.

I. Let us now take a rapid survey of the extensive journey which our book disposes of in very concise fashion. St. Paul and his companions, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and Silas, sailed from Cenchreae to Ephesus, which city up to this seems to have been untouched by Christian influences. St. Paul, in the earlier portion of his second tour, had been prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching in Ephesus, or in any portion of the provinces of Asia or Bithynia. Important as the human eye of St. Paul may have viewed them, still the Divine Guide of the Church saw that neither Asia nor Bithynia, with all their magnificent cities, their accumulated wealth, and their political position, were half so important as the cities and provinces of Europe, viewed from the standpoint of the world’s conversion. But now the gospel has secured a substantial foothold in Europe, has taken a firm grasp of that imperial race which then ruled the world, and so the Apostle is permitted to visit Ephesus for the first time. He seems to have then paid a mere passing visit to it, lasting perhaps while the ship discharged the portion of her cargo destined for Ephesus. But St. Paul never allowed time to hang heavy on his hands for want of employment. He left Aquila and Priscilla engaged in their mercantile transactions, and, entering himself into the principal synagogue, proceeded to expound his views. These do not seem to have then aroused any opposition; nay, the Jews even went so far as to desire him to tarry longer and open out his doctrines at greater length. We may conclude from this that St. Paul did not remain during this first visit much beyond one Sabbath day. If he had bestowed a second Sabbath day upon the Ephesian synagogue, his ideas and doctrines would have been made so clear and manifest that the Jews would not have required much further exposition in order to see their drift. St. Paul, after promising a second visit to them, left his old friends and associates, Aquila and his wife, with whom he had lived for nearly two years, at Ephesus, and pushed on to Casarea, a town which he must have already well known, and with which he was subsequently destined to make a long and unpleasant acquaintanceship, arriving at Jerusalem in time probably for the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated on September 16, A.D. 53. Concerning the details of that visit we know nothing. Four years at least must have elapsed since he had seen James and the other venerated heads of the Mother Church. We can imagine then how joyously he would have told them, how eagerly they would have heard the glad story of the wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through the power of Jesus Christ. After a short sojourn at Jerusalem St. Paul turned back to Caesarea, and thence went on to Antioch, the original seat of the Gentile mission for the propagation of the faith. After refreshing himself with the kindly offices of fraternal intercourse and conversation at this great Christian centre, where broad liberal sentiment and wide Christian culture, free from any narrow prejudices, must have infused a tone into society far more agreeable to St. Paul than the unprogressive Judaising views which flourished in Jerusalem, St. Paul then determined to set off upon his third great tour, which must have begun, at the earliest, some time in the spring of A.D. 54, as soon as the snows of winter had passed away and the passes through the Taurus Range into the central regions of Asia Minor had been opened. We know nothing more concerning the extended journey he took on this occasion. He seems to have avoided towns like Lystra and Derbe, and to have directed his march straight to Galatia, where he had sufficient work to engage all his thought. We have no mention of the names of the particular Churches where he laboured. Ancyra, as it was then called, Angora as it is now named, in all probability demanded St. Paul’s attention. If he visited it, he looked as the traveller does still upon the temple dedicated to the deity of Augustus and of Rome, the ruins of which have attracted the notice of every modern antiquary. Glad, however, as we should have been to gratify our curiosity by details like these, we are obliged to content ourselves with the information which St. Luke gives us, that St. Paul "went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, in order, stablishing all the disciples," leaving us a speaking example of the energising power, the invigorating effects, of a visitation such as St. Paul now conducted, sustaining the weak, arousing the careless, restraining the rash, guiding the whole body of the Church with the counsels of sanctified wisdom and heavenly prudence. Then, after his Phrygian and Galatian work was finished, St. Paul betook himself to a field which he long since desired to occupy, and determined to fulfil the promise made a year previously at least to his Jewish friends of the Ephesian Synagogue.

II. Now we come to the foundation of the Ephesian Church some time in the latter part of the year 54 A.D. Here it may strike some reader as an extraordinary thing that more than twenty years after the Crucifixion Ephesus was as yet totally untouched by the gospel; so that the tidings of salvation were quite a novel sound in the great Asiatic capital. People sometimes think of the primitive Church as if, after the Day of Pentecost, every individual Christian rushed off to preach in the most distant parts of the world, and that the whole earth was evangelised straight off. They forget the teaching of Christ about the gospel leaven, and leaven never works all on a heap as it were; it is slow, regular, progressive in its operations. The tradition, too, that the apostles did not leave Jerusalem till twelve years after His ascension ought to be a sufficient corrective of this false notion; and though this tradition may not have any considerable historical basis, yet it shows that the primitive Church did not cherish the very modern idea that enormous and immediate successes followed upon the preaching of the gospel after Pentecost, and that the conversion of vast populations at once occurred. The case was exactly contrary. For many a long year nothing at all was done towards the conversion of the Gentile world, and then for many another long year the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles entirely depended upon St. Paul alone. He was the one evangelist of the Gentiles, and therefore it is no wonder he should. have said in 1 Corinthians 1:7, "Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel." He was the one man fitted to deal with the prejudices, the ignorance, the sensuality, the grossness with which the Gentile world was overspread, and therefore no other work, no matter how important, was to be allowed to interfere with that one task which he alone could perform. This seems to me the explanation of the question which might otherwise cause some difficulty, how was it that the Ephesians, Jews and Gentiles alike, inhabiting this distinguished city, were still in such dire ignorance of the gospel message twenty years after the Ascension? Now let us come to the story of the circumstances amid which Ephesian Christianity took its rise. St. Paul, as we have already said, paid a passing visit to Ephesus just a year before when going up to Jerusalem, when he seems to have made a considerable impression in the synagogue. He left behind him Aquila and Priscilla, who, with their household, formed a small Christian congregation, meeting doubtless for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in their own house while yet frequenting the stated worship of the synagogue. This we conclude from the following circumstance, which is expressly mentioned in Acts 18:26. Apollos, a Jew, born in Alexandria, and a learned man, as was natural coming from that great centre of Greek and Oriental culture, came to Ephesus. He had been baptised by some of John’s disciples, either at Alexandria or in Palestine. It may very possibly have been at Alexandria. St. John’s doctrines and followers may have spread to Alexandria by that time, as we are expressly informed they had been diffused as far as Ephesus. [Acts 19:1-4] Apollos, when he came to Ephesus, entered, like St. Paul, into the synagogue, and "spake and taught carefully the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John." He knew about Jesus Christ, but with an imperfect knowledge such merely as John himself possessed. This man began to speak boldly in the synagogue on the topic of the Messiah whom John had preached. Aquila and Priscilla were present in the synagogue, heard the disputant, recognised his earnestness and his defects, and then, having taken him, expounded to him the way of God more fully, initiating him into the full mysteries of the faith by baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This incident has an important bearing upon the foundation and development of the Ephesian Church, but it bears more directly still upon the point on which we have been dwelling. Apollos disputed in the synagogues where Aquila and Priscilla heard him, so that they must have been regular worshippers there, notwithstanding their Christian profession and their close intercourse with St. Paul for more than eighteen months. After a little time further, Apollos desired to pass over to Greece. The little Christian Church which met at Aquila’s house told him of the wonders they had seen and heard in Achaia and of the flourishing state of the Church in Corinth. They gave him letters commendatory to that Church, whither Apollos passed over, and rendered such valuable help that his name a year or two later became one of the watchwords of Corinthian party strife. The way was now prepared for St. Paul’s great mission to Ephesus, exceeding in length any mission he had hitherto conducted, surpassing in its duration of three years the time spent even at Corinth itself. His own brief visit of the year before, the visit and work of the Alexandrian Jew, the quiet conversations, the holy lives, the sanctified examples of Aquila and Priscilla, these had done the preliminary work. They had roused expectation, provoked discussion, developed thought. Everything was ready for the great masterful teacher to step upon the ground and complete the work which he had already so auspiciously begun.

I do not propose to discuss the roads by which St. Paul may have travelled through the province of Asia on this eventful visit, nor to discuss the architectural features, or the geographical position of the city of Ephesus. These things I shall leave to the writers who have treated of St. Paul’s life. I now confine myself to the notices inserted by St. Luke concerning the Apostle’s Ephesian work, and about it I note that upon his arrival St. Paul came in contact with a small congregation of the disciples of John the Baptist, who had hitherto escaped the notice of the small Church existing at Ephesus. This need not excite our wonder. We are apt to think that because Christianity is now such a dominant element in our own intellectual and religious atmosphere it must always have been the same. Ephesus, too, was then an immense city, with a large population of Jews, who may have had many synagogues. These few disciples of John the Baptist may have worshipped in a synagogue which never heard of the brief visit of a Cilician Jew, a teacher named Saul of Tarsus, much less of the quiet efforts of Aquila and Priscilla, the tentmakers, lately come from Corinth. St. Paul, on his second visit, soon came in contact with these men. He at once asked them a question which tested their position and attainments in the Divine life, and sheds for us a vivid light upon apostolic doctrine and practice. "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" is plainly an inquiry whether they had enjoyed the blessing connected with the solemn imposition of hands, from which has been derived the rite of confirmation, as I showed in the previous Part. The disciples soon revealed the imperfect character of their religion by their reply: "Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was," words which led St. Paul to demand what in that case was the nature of their baptism. "Into what then were ye baptised?" and they said, "Into John’s baptism."

Now the simple explanation of the disciples’ ignorance was that they had been baptised with John’s baptism, which had no reference to or mention of the Holy Ghost. St. Paul, understanding them to be baptised disciples, could not understand their ignorance of the personal existence and present power of the Holy Ghost, till he learned from them the nature of their baptism, and then his surprise ceased. But then we must observe that the question of the Apostle astonished at their defective state - "Into what then were ye baptised?" - implies that, if baptised with Christian baptism, they would have known of the existence of the Holy Ghost, and therefore further implies that the baptismal formula into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was of universal application among Christians; for surely if this formula were not universally used by the Church, many Christians might be in exactly the same position as these disciples of John, and never have heard of the Holy Ghost! St. Paul, having expounded the difference between the inchoate, imperfect, beginning knowledge, of the Baptist, and the richer, fuller teaching of Jesus Christ, then handed them over for further preparation to his assistants, by whom, after due fasting and prayer, they were baptised, and at once presented to the Apostle for the imposition of hands; when the Holy Ghost was vouchsafed in present effects, "they spake with tongues and prophesied," as if to sanction in a special manner the decided action taken by the Apostle on this occasion.

The details concerning this affair, given to us by the sacred writer, are most important. They set forth at greater length and with larger fulness the methods ordinarily used by the Apostle than on other similar occasions. The Philippian jailor was converted and baptised, but we read nothing of the imposition of hands. Dionysius and Damaris, Aquila and Priscilla, and many others at Athens and Corinth were converted, but there is no mention of either baptism or any other holy rite. It might have been very possible to argue that the silence of the writer implied utter contempt of the sacraments of the gospel and the rite of confirmation on these occasions, were it not that we have this detailed account of the manner in which St. Paul dealt with half-instructed, unbaptised, and unconfirmed disciples of Christ Jesus. They were instructed, baptised, and confirmed, and thus introduced into the fulness of blessing required by the discipline of the Lord, as ministered by His faithful servant. If this were the routine observed with those who had been taught "carefully the things of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John," how much more would it have been the case of those rescued out of the pollutions of paganism and called into the kingdom of light!

III. After this favourable beginning, and seeing the borders of the infant Church extended by the union of these twelve disciples, St. Paul, after his usual fashion, flung himself into work amongst the Jews of Ephesus upon whom he had previously made a favourable impression. He was well received for a time. He continued for three months "reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God." But, as it was elsewhere, so was it at Ephesus, the offence of the Cross told in the long run upon the worshippers of the synagogue. The original Christian Church was Jewish. Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos and Timothy, and the disciples of John the Baptist would have excited no resentment in the minds of the Jews; but when St. Paul began to open out the hope which lay for Gentiles as well as for Jews in the gospel which he preached, then the objections of the synagogue were multiplied, riots and disturbances became, as elsewhere, matters of daily occurrence, and the opposition became at last so bitter that as at Corinth, so here again at Ephesus, the Apostle was obliged to separate his own followers, and gather them into the school of one Tyrannus, a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric, whom perhaps he had converted, where the blasphemous denunciations against the Divine Way which he taught could no longer be heard. In this school or lecture-hall St. Paul continued labouring for more than two years, bestowing upon the city of Ephesus a longer period of continuous labour than he ever vouchsafed to any place else. We have St. Paul’s own statement as to his method of life at this period in the address he subsequently delivered to the elders of Ephesus. The Apostle pursued at Ephesus the same course which he adopted at Corinth, in one important direction at least. He supported himself and his immediate companions, Timothy and Sosthenes, by his own labour, and that we may presume for precisely the same reason at Ephesus as at Corinth. He desired to cut off all occasion of accusation against himself. Ephesus was a city devoted to commerce and to magic. It was full of impostors too, many of them Jewish, who made gain out of the names of angels and magical formulae derived from the pretended wisdom of Solomon handed down to them by secret succession, or derived by them from contact with the lands of the far distant East. St. Paul determined, therefore, that he would give no opportunity of charging him with trading upon the credulity of his followers, or working with an eye to covetous or dishonest gains. "I coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," is the description he gave of the manner in which he discharged his apostolic office in Ephesus, when addressing the elders of that city. We can thus trace St. Paul labouring at his trade as a tentmaker for nearly a period of five years, combining the time spent at Ephesus with that spent at Corinth. Notwithstanding, however, the attention and energy which this exercise of his trade demanded, he found time for enormous evangelistic and pastoral work. In fact, we find St. Paul nowhere else so much occupied with pastoral work as at Ephesus. Elsewhere we see the devoted evangelist, rushing in with the pioneers, breaking down all hindrances, heading the stormers to whom were committed the fiercest struggle, the most deadly conflict, and then at once moving into fresh conflicts, leaving the spoils of victory and the calmer work of peaceful pastoral labours to others. But here in Ephesus we see St. Paul’s marvellous power of adaptation. He is at one hour a clever artisan, capable of gaining support sufficient for others as well as for himself; then he is the skilful controversialist "reasoning daily in the school of one Tyrannus"; and then he is the indefatigable pastor of souls "teaching publicly, and from house to house," and "ceasing not to admonish every one night and day with tears."

But this was not all, or nearly all, the burden the apostle carried. He had to be perpetually on the alert against Jewish plots. We hear nothing directly of Jewish attempts on his life or liberty during the period of just three years which he spent on this prolonged visit. We might be sure, however, from our previous experience of the synagogues, that he must have run no small danger in this direction; but then when we turn to the same address we hear something of them. He is recalling to the minds of the Ephesian elders the circumstances of his life in their community from the beginning, and he therefore appeals thus: "Ye yourselves know from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me with plots of the Jews." Ephesus again was a great field wherein he personally worked; it was also a great centre for missionary operations which he superintended. It was the capital of the province of Asia, the richest and most important of all the Roman provinces, teeming with resources, abounding in highly civilised and populous cities, connected with one another by an elaborate network of admirably constructed roads. Ephesus was cut out by nature and by art alike as a missionary centre whence the gospel should radiate out into all the surrounding districts. And so it did. "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks," is the testimony of St. Luke with respect to the wondrous progress of the gospel, not in Ephesus alone, but also throughout all the province, a statement which we find corroborated a little lower down in the same nineteenth chapter by the independent testimony of Demetrius the silversmith, who, when he was endeavouring to stir up his fellow-craftsmen to active exertions in defence of their endangered trade, says, "Ye see and hear that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people." St. Paul’s disciples laboured, too, in the other cities of Asia, as Epaphras, for instance, in Colossae. And St. Paul himself, we may be certain, bestowed the Lifts and blessings of his apostolic office by visiting these local Churches, as far as he could consistently with the pressing character of his engagements in Ephesus. But even the superintendence of vast missions throughout the province of Asia did not exhaust the prodigious labours of St. Paul. He perpetually bore about in his bosom anxious thoughts for the welfare, trials, and sorrows of the numerous Churches he had established in Europe and Asia alike. He was constant in prayers for them, mentioning the individual members by name, and he was unwearied in keeping up communications with them, either by verbal messages or by written epistles, one specimen of which remains in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, written to them from Ephesus, and showing us the minute care, the comprehensive interest, the intense sympathy which dwelt within his breast with regard to his distant converts all the while that the work at Ephesus, controversial, evangelistic, and pastoral, to say nothing at all of his tent making, was making the most tremendous demands on body and soul alike, and apparently absorbing all his attention. It is only when we thus realise bit by bit what the weak, delicate, emaciated Apostle must have been doing, that we are able to grasp the full meaning of his own words to the Corinthians: "Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the Churches."

This lengthened period of intense activity of mind and body terminated in an incident which illustrates the peculiar character of St. Paul’s Ephesian ministry. Ephesus was a town where the spiritual and moral atmosphere simply reeked with the fumes, ideas, and practices of Oriental paganism, of which the magical incantations formed the predominant feature. Magic prevailed all over the pagan world at this time. In Rome, however, magical practices were always more or less under the ban of public opinion, though at times resorted to by those whose office called upon them to suppress illegal actions. A couple of years before the very time at which we have arrived, workers in magic, among whom were included astrologers, or mathematicians, as the Roman law called them, were banished from Rome simultaneously with the Jews, who always enjoyed an unenviable notoriety for such occult practices. In Asia Minor and the East they flourished at this time under the patronage of religion, and continued to flourish in all the great cities down to Christian times. Christianity itself could not wholly banish magic, which retained its hold upon the half-converted Christians who flocked into the Church in crowds during the second half of the fourth century; and we learn from St. Chrysostom himself, that when a young man he had a narrow escape for his life owing to the continuance of magical practices in Antioch, more than three hundred years after St. Paul. It is no wonder that when Diana’s worship reigned supreme at Ephesus magical practices should also flourish there. If, however, there existed a special development of the power of evil at Ephesus, God also bestowed a special manifestation of Divine power in the person and ministry of St. Paul, as St. Luke expressly declares: "God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul, insomuch that unto the sick were carried away from his body handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits departed from them." This passage has often been found a stumbling-block by many persons. They have thought that it has a certain legendary air about it, as they in turn think there is a certain air of legend about the similar passage in Acts 5:12-16, which makes much the same statement about St. Peter. When writing about this latter passage (Chap. XII above), I offered some suggestions which lessen, if they do not quite take away, the difficulty; to these I shall now only refer my readers. But I think we can see a local reason for the peculiar development or manifestation of miraculous power through St. Paul. The devil’s seat was just then specially at Ephesus, so far as the great province of Asia was concerned. The powers of evil had concentrated all their force and all their wealth of external grandeur, intellectual cleverness, and spiritual trickery in order to lead men captive; and there God, in order that He might secure a more striking victory for truth upon this magnificent stage, armed His faithful servant with an extraordinary development of the good powers of the world to come, enabling him to work special wonders in the sight of the heathen. Can we not read an echo of the fearful struggle just then waged in the metropolis of Asia in words addressed some years later to the members of the same Church, "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places"? We make a great mistake when we think of the Apostles as working miracles when and as they liked. At times their evangelistic work seems to have been conducted without any extraordinary manifestations, and then at other times, when the power of Satan was specially put forth, God displayed His special strength, enabling His servants to work wonders and signs in His name. It was much the same as in the Old Testament. The Old Testament miracles will be found to cluster themselves round the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and its Reformation at the hand of Elijah. So, too, the recorded miracles of the Apostles will be found to gather round St. Peter’s earlier work in Jerusalem, where Satan strove to counter-work God’s designs in one way, and St. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, where Satan strove to counter-work them in another way. One incident at Ephesus attracted special attention. There was a priestly family, consisting of seven sons, belonging to the Jews at Ephesus. Their father had occupied high position among the various courses which in turn served the Temple, even as Zacharias, the father of the Baptist, did. These men observed the power with which St. Paul dealt with human spirits disordered by the powers of evil, using for that purpose the sacred name of Jesus. They undertook to use the same sacred invocation; but it proved, like the censers of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, a strange fire kindled against their own souls. The man possessed by the evil spirit recognised not their presumptuous efforts, but attacked them, and did them serious bodily injury. This circumstance spread the fame of the man of God wider and wider. The power of magic and of the demons fell before him, even as the image of Dagon fell before the Ark. Many of the nominal believers in Christianity had still retained their magical practices as of yore, even as nominal Christians retained them in the days of St. Chrysostom. The reality of St. Paul’s power, demonstrated by the awful example of Sceva’s sons, smote them in their inmost conscience. They came, confessed their deeds, brought their magical books together, and gave the greatest proof of their honest convictions; for they burned them in the sight of all, and counting the price thereof found it fifty thousand pieces of silver, or more than two thousand pounds of our money. "So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed" in the very chosen seat of the Ephesian Diana.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 18:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/acts-18.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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