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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Acts 20

 

 

Verse 1

Chapter 16

ST. PAUL AND THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.

Acts 20:1; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:17-19; Acts 20:28

THE period of St. Paul’s career at which we have now arrived was full of life, vigour, activity. He was in the very height of his powers, was surrounded with responsibilities, was pressed with cares and anxieties; and yet the character of the sacred narrative is very peculiar. From the passover of the year 57, soon after which the Apostle had to leave Ephesus, till the passover of the next year, we learn but very little of St. Paul’s work from the narrative of St. Luke. The five verses with which the twentieth chapter begins tell us all that St. Luke apparently knew about the Apostle’s actions during that time. He gives us the story of a mere outsider, who knew next to nothing of the work St. Paul was doing. The Apostle left Ephesus and went into Macedonia, whence he departed into Greece. Three months were occupied in teaching at Corinth, and then, intending to sail from Cenchreae to Ephesus, he suddenly changed his mind upon the discovery of a Jewish plot, altered his route, disappointed his foes, and paid a second visit to Macedonia. In this narrative, which is all St. Luke gives, we have the account, brief and concise, of one who was acquainted merely with the bare outlines of the Apostle’s work, and knew nothing of his inner life and trials. St. Luke, in fact, was so much taken up with his own duties at Philippi, where he had been labouring for the previous five years, that he had no time to think of what was going on elsewhere. At any rate his friend and pupil Theophilus had simply asked him for a narrative so far as he knew it of the progress of the gospel. He had no idea that he was writing anything more than a story for the private use of Theophilus, and he therefore put down what he knew and had experienced, without troubling himself concerning other matters. I have read criticisms of the Acts-proceeding principally, I must confess, from German sources-which seem to proceed on the supposition that St. Luke was consciously writing an ecclesiastical history of the whole early Church which he knew and felt was destined to serve for ages. But this was evidently not the case. St. Luke was consciously writing a story merely for a friend’s study, and dreamt not of the wider fame and use destined for his. book. This accounts in a simple and natural way, not only for what St. Luke inserts, but also for what he leaves out, and he manifestly left out a great deal. We may take this passage at which we have now arrived as an illustration of his methods of writing sacred history. This period of ten months, from the time St. Paul left Ephesus till he returned to Philippi at the following Easter season, was filled with most important labours which have borne fruit unto all ages of the Church, yet St. Luke dismisses them in a few words. Just let us realise what happened in these eventful months. St. Paul wrote First Corinthians in April A.D. 57. In May he passed to Troas, where, as we learn from Second Corinthians, he laboured for a short time with much success. He then passed into Macedonia, urged on by his restless anxiety concerning the Corinthian Church. In Macedonia. he laboured during the following five or six months. How intense and absorbing must have been his work during that time! It was then that he preached the gospel with signs and wonders round about even unto Illyricum, as he notes in Romans 16:19, an epistle written this very year from Corinth. The last time that he had been in Macedonia he was a hunted fugitive fleeing from place to place. Now he seems to have lived in comparative peace, so far at least as the Jewish synagogues were concerned. He penetrated, therefore, into the mountainous districts west of Beroea, bearing the gospel tidings into cities and villages which had as yet heard nothing of them. But preaching was not his only work in Macedonia. He had written his first Epistle to Corinth from Ephesus a few months before. In Macedonia he received from Titus, his messenger, an account of the manner in which that epistle had been received, and so from Macedonia he despatched his second Corinthian Epistle, which must be carefully studied if we desire to get an adequate idea of the labours and anxieties amid which the Apostle was then immersed. {see 2 Corinthians 2:13, and 2 Corinthians 7:5-6} And then he passed into Greece, where he spent three months at Corinth, settling the affairs of that very celebrated but very disorderly Christian community. The three months spent there must have been a period of overwhelming business. Let us recount the subjects which must have taken up every moment of St. Paul’s time. First there were the affairs ‘of the Corinthian Church itself. He had to reprove, comfort, direct, set in order. The whole moral, spiritual, social, intellectual conceptions of Corinth had gone wrong. There was not a question, from the most elementary topic of morals and the social considerations connected with female dress and activities, to the most solemn points of doctrine and worship, the Resurrection and the Holy Communion, concerning which difficulties, disorders, and dissensions had not been raised. All these had to be investigated and decided by the Apostle. Then, again, the Jewish controversy, anti the oppositions to himself personally which the Judaising party had excited, demanded his careful attention. This controversy was a troublesome one in Corinth just then, but it was a still more troublesome one in Galatia, and was fast raising its head in Rome. The affairs of both these great and important churches, the one in the East, the other in the West, were pressing upon St. Paul at this very time. While he was immersed in all the local troubles of Corinth, he had to find time at Corinth to write the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans. How hard it must have been for the Apostle to concentrate his attention on the affairs of Corinth when his heart and brain were torn with anxieties about the schisms, divisions, and false doctrines which were flourishing among his Galatian converts, or threatening to invade the Church at Rome, where as yet he had not been able to set forth his own conception of gospel truth, and thus fortify the disciples against the attacks of those subtle foes of Christ who were doing their best to turn the Catholic Church into a mere narrow Jewish sect, devoid of all spiritual power and life.

But this was not all, or nearly all. St. Paul was at the same time engaged in organising a great collection throughout all the churches where he had ministered on behalf of the poor Christians at Jerusalem, and he was compelled to walk most warily and carefully in this matter. Every step he took was watched by foes ready to interpret it unfavourably; every appointment he made, every arrangement, no matter how wise or prudent, was the subject of keenest scrutiny and criticism. With all these various matters accumulating upon him it is no wonder that St. Paul should have written of himself at this very period in words which vividly describe his distractions: "Beside those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the care of all the churches." And yet St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the greatness of his soul as we read the epistles which were the outcome of this period of intense but fruitful labour. He carried a mighty load, but yet he carried it lightly. His present anxieties were numerous, but they did not shut out all thoughts upon other topics. The busiest man then was just the same as the busiest man still. He was the man who had the most time and leisure to bestow thought upon the future. The anxieties and worries of the present were numerous and exacting, but St. Paul did not allow his mind to be so swallowed up in them as to shut out all care about other questions equally important. While he was engaged in the manifold cares which present controversies brought, he was all the while meditating a mission to Rome, and contemplating a journey still farther to Spain and Gaul and the bounds of the Western ocean. And then, finally, there was the care of St. Paul’s own soul, the sustenance and development of his spirit by prayer and meditation and worship and reading, which he never neglected under any circumstances. All these things combined must have rendered this period of close upon twelve months one of the Apostle’s busiest and in-tensest times, and yet St. Luke disposes of it in a few brief verses of this twentieth chapter.

After St. Paul’s stay at Corinth, he determined to proceed to Jerusalem according to his predetermined plan, bringing with him the proceeds of the collection which he had made. He wished to go by sea, as he had done some three years before, sailing from Cenchreae direct to Syria. The Jews of Corinth, however, were as hostile as ever, and so they hatched a plot to murder him before his embarkation. St. Paul, however, having learned their designs, suddenly changed his route, and took his journey by land through Macedonia, visiting once more his former converts and tarrying to keep the passover at Philippi with the little company of Christian Jews who there resided. This circumstance throws light upon verses 4 and 5 of this twentieth chapter, which run thus: "There accompanied him as far as Asia Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas." St. Paul came to Philippi, found St. Luke there, celebrated the passover, and then sailed away with St. Luke to join the company who had gone before. And they had gone before for a very good reason. They were ‘all, except Timothy, Gentile Christians, persons therefore who, unlike St. Paul, had nothing to do with the national rites and customs of born Jews, and who might be much more profitably exercised in working among the Gentile converts at Troas, free from any danger of either giving or taking offence in connection with the passover, a lively instance of which danger Trophimus, one of their number, subsequently afforded in Jerusalem, when his presence alone in St. Paul’s company caused the spread of a rumour which raised the riot so fatal to St. Paul’s liberty: "For they had seen with him in the city. Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple." [Acts 21:29] This incident, together with St. Paul’s conduct at Jerusalem, as told in the twenty-sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter, illustrates vividly St. Paul’s view of the Jewish law and Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were for Jews national ceremonies. They had a meaning for them. They commemorated certain national deliverances, and as such might be lawfully used. St. Paul himself could eat the passover and cherish the feelings of a Jew, heartily thankful to God for the deliverance from Egypt wrought out through Moses centuries ago for his ancestors, and his mind could then go on and rejoice over a greater deliverance still wrought out at this same paschal season by a greater than Moses. St. Paul openly proclaimed the, lawfulness of the Jewish rites for Jews, but opposed their imposition upon the Gentiles. He regarded them as tolerabiles ineptiae, and therefore observed them to please his weaker brethren; but sent his Gentile converts on before, lest perhaps the sight of his own example might weaken their faith and lead them to a compliance with that Judaising party who were ever ready to avail themselves of any opportunity to weaken St. Paul’s teaching and authority. St. Paul always strove to unite wisdom and prudence with faithfulness to principle lest by any means his labour should be in vain.

St. Luke now joined St. Paul at Philippi, and henceforth gives his own account of what happened on this eventful journey. From Philippi they crossed to Troas. It was the spring-time, and the weather was more boisterous than later in the year, and so the voyage took five days to accomplish, while two days had sufficed on a previous occasion. They came to Troas, and there remained for a week, owing doubtless to the exigencies of the ship and its cargo. On the first day of the week St. Paul assembled the Church for worship. The meeting was held on what we should call Saturday evening; but we must remember that the Jewish first day began from sundown on Saturday or the Sabbath. This is the first notice in the Acts of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the time of special Christian worship. We have, however, earlier notices of the-first day in connection with Christian observances. The apostles, for instance, met together on the first day, as we are told in John 20:19, and again eight days after, as the twenty-sixth verse of the same chapter tells. St. Paul’s first Epistle to Corinth was written twelve months earlier than this visit to Troas, and it expressly mentions [1 Corinthians 16:2] the first day of the week as the time ordered by St. Paul for the setting apart of the Galatian contribution to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem; and so here again at Troas we see that the Asiastic Christians observed the same solemn time for worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. Such glimpses-chance notices, we might call them, were there not a higher Providence watching over the unconscious writer-show us how little we can conclude from mere silence about the ritual, worship, and government of the Apostolic Church, and illustrate the vast importance of studying carefully the extant records of the Christian Church in the second century if we wish to gain fresh light upon the history and customs of the apostolic age. If three or four brief texts were blotted out of the New Testament, it would be quite possible to argue from Silence merely that the apostles and their immediate followers did not observe the Lord’s Day in any way whatsoever, and that the custom of stated worship and solemn eucharistic celebrations on that day were a corruption introduced in post-apostolic times. The best interpreters of the New Testament are, as John Wesley long ago well pointed out in his preface to his celebrated but now almost unknown Christian Library, the apostolic fathers and the writers of the age next following the apostles. We may take it for a certain rule of interpretation that, whenever we find a widely established practice or custom mentioned in the writings of a Christian author of the second century, it originated in apostolic times. It was only natural that this should have been the case. We are all inclined to venerate the past, and to cry it up as the golden age. Now this tendency must have been intensified tenfold in the case of the Christians of the second century. The first century was the time of our Lord and the age of the apostles. Sacred memories clustered thick round it, and every ceremony and rite which came from that time must have been profoundly reverenced, while every new ceremony or custom must have been rudely challenged, and its author keenly scrutinised as one who presumptuously thought he could improve upon the wisdom of men respired by the Holy Ghost and miraculously gifted by God. It is for this reason we regard the second-century doctors and apologists as the best commentary upon the sacred writers, because in them we see the Church of the apostolic age living, acting, displaying itself amid the circumstances and scenes of actual life.

Just let us take as an illustration the case of this observance of the first day of the week. The Acts of the Apostles tells us but very little about it, simply because there is but little occasion to mention what must have seemed to St. Luke one of the commonest and best-known facts. But Justin Martyr some eighty years later was describing Christianity for the Roman Emperor. He was defending it against the outrageous and immoral charges brought against it, and depicting the purity, the innocency, and simplicity of its sacred rites. Among other subjects dealt with, he touches upon the time when Christians offered up formal and stated worship. It was absolutely necessary therefore for him to treat of the subject of the Lord’s Day. In the sixty-seventh chapter of Justin’s First "Apology," we find him describing the Christian weekly festival in words which throw back an interesting light upon the language of St. Luke touching the Lord’s Day which St. Paul passed at Troas. Justin writes thus on this topic: "Upon the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together unto one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And those who are well to do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead." This passage gives us a full account of Christian customs in the first half of the second century, when thousands must have been still alive who remembered the times of the apostles, enabling us to realise what must have been the character of the assembly and of the worship in which St. Paul played a leading part at Troas.

There was, however, a difference between the celebration at Troas and the celebrations of which Justin Martyr speaks, though we learn not of this difference from Justin himself, but from Pliny’s letter to Trajan, concerning which we have often spoken. St. Paul met the Christians of Troas in the evening, and celebrated the Holy Communion with them about midnight. It was the first day of the week according to Jewish computation, though it was what we should call Saturday evening. The ship in which the apostolic company was travelling was about to sail on the morrow, and so St. Paul gladly joined the local church in its weekly breaking of bread. It was exactly the same here at Troas as reported by St. Luke, as it was at Corinth, where the evening celebrations were turned into occasions of gluttony and ostentation, as St. Paul tells us in the eleventh of First Corinthians. The Christians evidently met at this time in the evening to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It has been often thought that St. Paul, having referred just twelve months before in the First Corinthian Epistle to the gross abuses connected with the evening celebrations at Corinth, and having promised to set the abuses of Corinth in order when he visited that church, did actually change the time of the celebration of Holy Communion from the evening to the morning, when he spent the three months there of which this chapter speaks. Perhaps he did make the change, but we have no information on the point; and if he did make the change for Corinth, it is evident that he did not intend to impose it as a rule upon the whole Christian Church, when a few weeks after leaving Corinth he celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Troas in the evening. By the second century, however, the change had been made. Justin Martyr indeed does not give a hint as to the time when Holy Communion was administered in the passages to which we have referred. He tells us that none but baptised persons were-admitted to partake of it, but gives us no minor details. Pliny, however, writing of the state of affairs in Bithynia, -and it bordered upon the province where Troas was situated, -tells us from the confession extracted out of apostate Christians that "the whole of their fault lay in this, that they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a sacrament (or oath) not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft or robbery or adultery." After this early service they then separated, and assembled again in the evening to partake of a common meal. The Agape or Love-Feast was united with the Holy Communion in St. Paul’s day. Experience, however, showed that Such a union must lead to grave abuses, and so in that final consolidation which the Church received during the last quarter of the first century, when the Lord’s Second Coming was seen to be not so immediate as some at first expected, the two institutions were divided; the Holy Communion being appointed as the early morning service of the Lord’s Day, while the Agape was left in its original position as an evening meal. And so have matters continued ever since. The Agape indeed has almost died out. A trace of it perhaps remains in the blessed bread distributed in Roman Catholic Churches on the Continent; while again the love feasts instituted by John Wesley and continued among his followers were an avowed imitation of this primitive institution. The Agape continued indeed in vigorous existence for centuries, but it was almost always found associated with grave abuses. It might have been innocent and useful so long as Christian love continued to burn with the fervour of apostolic days, though even then, as Corinth showed, there were lurking dangers in it; but when we reach the fourth and fifth centuries we find council after council denouncing the evils of the Agape, and restricting its celebration with such effect that during the Middle Ages it ceased to exist as a distinctive Christian ordinance. The change of the Holy Communion to the earlier portion of the day took almost Universal effect, and that from the earliest times. Tertullian ("De Corona," 3.) testifies that in his time the Eucharist was received before daybreak, though Christ had instituted it at a mealtime. Cyprian witnesses to the same usage in his sixty-third Epistle, where he speaks of Christ as instituting the Sacrament in the evening, that "the very hour of the sacrifice might intimate the evening of the world," but then describes himself as "celebrating the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." St. Augustine, as quoted above, writing about 400, speaks of fasting communion as the general rule; so general, indeed, that he regards it as having come down from apostolic appointment. At the same time St. Augustine recognises the time of its original institution, and mentions the custom of the African Church which once a year had an evening communion on Thursday before Easter in remembrance of the Last Supper and of our Lord’s action in connection with it. My own feeling on the matter is, that early fasting communion, when there are health and strength, is far the most edifying. There is an element of self-denial about it, and the more real self-denial there is about our worship the more blessed will that worship be. A worship that costs nothing in mind, body, or estate is but a very poor thing to offer unto the Lord of the universe. But there is no ground either in Holy Scripture or the history of the primitive Church justifying an attempt to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which they cannot bear and to teach that fasting communion is binding upon all Christians. St. Augustine speaks most strongly in a passage we have already referred to (Epist. 118., "Ad Januar.") about the benefit of fasting communion; but he admits the lawfulness of non-fasting participation, as does also that great Greek divine St. Chrysostom, who quotes the examples of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself in justification of such a course.

The celebration of the Eucharist was not the only subject which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas. He preached unto the people as well; and following his example we find from Justin Martyr’s narrative that preaching was an essential part of the communion office in the days immediately following the apostles’ age; and then, descending to lower times still, we know that preaching is an equally essential portion of the eucharistic service in the Western Church, the only formal provision for a sermon according to the English liturgy being the rubric in the service for the Holy Communion, which lays down that after the Nicene Creed, "Then shall follow the sermon or one of the Homilies already set forth, or hereafter to be set forth, by authority." St. Paul’s discourse was no mere mechanical homily, however. He was not what man regarded as a powerful, but he was a ready speaker, and one who carried his hearers away by the rapt, intense earnestness of his manner. His whole soul was full of his subject. He was convinced that this was his last visit to the churches of Asia. He foresaw, too, a thousand dangers to which they would be exposed after his departure, and he therefore prolonged his sermon far into the night, so far indeed that human nature asserted its claims upon a young man named Eutychus, who sat in a window of a room Where they were assembled. Human nature indeed was never for a moment absent from these primitive Church assemblies. If it was absent in one shape, it was present in another, just as really as in our modern congregations, and so Eutychus fell fast asleep under the heart-searching exhortations of an inspired apostle, even as men fall asleep. under less powerful sermons of smaller men; and as the natural result, sitting in a window left open for the sake of ventilation, he fell down into the courtyard, and was taken up apparently lifeless. St. Paul was not put out, however. He took interruptions in his work as the Master took them. He was not upset by them, but he seized them, utilised them, and then, having extracted the sweetness and blessedness which they brought with them, he returned from them back to his interrupted work. St. Paul descended to Eutychus, found him in a lifeless state, and then restored him. Men have disputed whether the Apostle worked a miracle on this occasion, or merely perceived that the young man was in a temporary faint. I do not see that it makes any matter which opinion we form. St. Paul’s supernatural and miraculous powers stand on quite an independent ground, no matter what way we decide this particular case. It seems to me indeed from the language of St. Paul-"Make ye no ado; for his life is in him"-that the young man had merely fainted, and that St. Paul recognised this fact as soon as he touched him. But if any one has strong opinions on the opposite side I should be sorry to spend time disputing a question which has absolutely no evidential bearing. The great point is, that Eutychus was restored, that St. Paul’s long sermon was attended by no fatal consequences, and that the Apostle has left us a striking example showing how that, with pastors and people alike, intense enthusiasm, high-strung interest in the affairs of the spiritual world, can enable human nature to rise superior to all human wants, and prove itself master even of the conquering powers of sleep: "And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a tong while, even till break of day, so he departed."

We know nothing of what the particular topics were which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas, but we may guess them from the subject-matter of the address to the elders of Ephesus, which takes up the latter half of this twentieth chapter. Troas and Ephesus, in fact, were so near and so similarly circumstanced that the dangers and trials of both must have been much alike. He next passed from Troas to Miletus. This is a considerable journey along the western shore of Asia Minor. St. Paul was eagerly striving to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, or by Whitsuntide, as we should say. He had left Philippi after Easter, and now there had elapsed more than a fortnight of the seven weeks which remained available for the journey to Jerusalem. How often St. Paul must have chafed against the manifold delays of the trading vessel in which he sailed; how frequently he must have counted the days to see if sufficient time remained to execute his purpose! St. Paul, however, was a rigid economist of time. He saved every fragment of it as carefully as possible. It was thus with him at Troas. The ship in which he was travelling left Troas early in the morning. It had to round a promontory in its way to the port of Assos, which could be reached direct by St. Paul in half the time. The Apostle therefore took the shorter route, while St. Luke and his companions embarked on board the vessel. St. Paul evidently chose the land route because it gave him a time of solitary communion with God and with himself. He felt, in fact, that the perpetual strain upon his spiritual nature demanded special spiritual support and refreshment, which could only be obtained in the case of one who led such a busy life by seizing upon every such occasion as then offered for meditation and prayer. St. Paul left Troas some time on Sunday morning. He joined the ship at Assos, and after three days’ coasting voyage landed at Miletus on Wednesday, whence he despatched a messenger summoning the’ elders of the Church of Ephesus to meet him. The ship was evidently to make a delay of several days at Miletus. We conclude this from the following reason. Miletus is a town separated by a distance of thirty miles from Ephesus. A space therefore of at least two days would be required in order to secure the presence of the Ephesian elders. If a messenger-St. Luke, for instance-started immediately on St. Paul’s arrival at Miletus, no matter how quickly he travelled, he could not arrive at Miletus sooner than Thursday at midday. The work of collecting the elders and making known to them the apostolic summons would take up the afternoon at least, and then the journey to Ephesus, either by land or water, must have occupied the whole of Friday. It is very possible that the sermon recorded in this twentieth of Acts was delivered, on the Sabbath, which, as we have noted above, was as yet kept sacred by Christians as well as by Jews, or else upon the Lord’s Day, when, as upon that day week at Troas, the elders of Ephesus had assembled with the Christians of Miletus in order to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.

We have already pointed out that we know not the subject of St. Paul’s sermon at Troas, but we do know the topics upon which he enlarged at Miletus, and we may conclude that, considering the circumstances of the time, they must have been much the same as those upon which he dwelt at Troas. Some critics have found fault with St. Paul’s sermon as being quite too much taken up with himself and his own vindication. But they forget the peculiar position in which St. Paul was placed, and the manner in which the truth of the gospel was then associated in the closest manner with St. Paul’s own personal character and teaching. The Apostle was just then assailed all over the Christian world wherever he had laboured, and even sometimes where he was only known by name, with the most frightful charges; ambition, pride, covetousness, deceit, lying, all these things and much more were imputed to him by his opponents, who wished to seduce the Gentiles from that simplicity and liberty in Christ into which he had led them. Corinth had been desolated by such teachers; Galatia had succumbed to them; Asia was in great peril. St. Paul therefore, foreseeing future dangers, warned the shepherds of the flock at Ephesus against the machinations of his enemies, who always began their preliminary operations by making attacks upon St. Paul’s character. This sufficiently explains the apologetic tone of St. Paul’s address, of which we have doubtless merely a brief and condensed abstract indicating the subjects of a prolonged conversation with the elders of Ephesus, Miletus, and such neighbouring churches as could be gathered together. We conclude that St. Paul’s conference on this occasion must have been a long one for this reason. If St. Paul could find matter sufficient to engage his attention for a whole night, from sundown till sunrise, in a place like Troas, where he had laboured but a very short time, how much more must he have found to say to the presbyters of the numerous congregations which must have been flourishing at Ephesus, where he had laboured for years with such success as to make Christianity a prominent feature in the social and religious life of that idolatrous city!

Let us now notice some of the topics of this address. It may be divided into four portions. The first part is retrospective, and autobiographical; the second is prospective, and sets forth his conception of his future course; the third is hortatory, expounding the dangers threatening the Ephesian Church; and the fourth is valedictory.

I We have the biographical portion. He begins his discourse by recalling to the minds of his hearers his own manner of life, -"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 by the plots of the Jews"; words which show us that from the earliest portion of his ministry at Ephesus, and as soon as they realised the meaning of his message, the Jews had become as hostile to the Apostle at Ephesus as they had repeatedly shown themselves at Corinth, again and again making attempts upon his life. The foundations indeed of the Ephesian Church were laid in the synagogue during the first three months of his work, as we are expressly told in Acts 19:8; but the Ephesian Church must have been predominantly Gentile in its composition, or else the language of Demetrius must have been exaggerated and the riot raised by him meaningless. How could Demetrius have said, "Ye see that at Ephesus this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods which are made with hands," unless the vast majority of his converts were drawn from the ranks of those pagans who worshipped Diana? These words also show us that during his extended ministry at Ephesus he was left at peace by the heathen. St. Paul here makes no mention of trials experienced from pagan plots. He speaks of the Jews alone as making assaults upon his work or his person, incidentally confirming the statement of Acts 19:23, that it was only when he was purposing to retire from Ephesus, and during the celebration of the Artemisian games which marked his last days there, that the opposition of the pagans developed itself in a violent shape.

St. Paul begins his address by fixing upon Jewish opposition outside the Church as his great trial at Ephesus, just as the same kind of opposition inside the Church had been his great trial at Corinth, and was yet destined to be a source of trial to him in the Ephesian Church itself, as we can see from the Pastoral Epistles. He then proceeds to speak of the doctrines he had taught and how he had taught them; reminding them "how that I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul sets forth his manner of teaching. He taught publicly, and public teaching was most effective in his case, because he came armed with a double power, the powers of spiritual and of intellectual preparation. St. Paul was not a man who thought that prayer and spiritual life could dispense with thought and mental culture. Or again, he would be the last to tolerate the idea that diligent visitation from house to house would make up for the neglect of that public teaching which he so constantly and so profitably practised. Public preaching and teaching, pastoral visitation and work, are two distinct branches of labour, which at various periods of the Church’s history have been regarded in very different lights. St. Paul evidently viewed them as equally important; the tendency in the present age is, however, to decry and neglect preaching and to exalt pastoral work-including under that head Church services-out of its due position. This is, indeed, a great and lamentable mistake. The "teaching publicly" to which St. Paul refers is the only opportunity which the majority of men possess of hearing the authorised ministers of religion, and if the latter neglect the office of public preaching, and think the fag end of a week devoted to external and secular labours and devoid of any mental study and preparation stirring the soul and refreshing the spirit, to be quite sufficient for pulpit preparation, they cannot be surprised if men come to despise the religion that is presented in such a miserable light and by such inefficient ambassadors.

St. Paul insists in this passage on the publicity and boldness of his teaching. There was no secrecy about him, no hypocrisy; he did not come pretending one view or one line of doctrine, and then, having stolen in secretly, teaching a distinct system. In this passage, which may seem laudatory of his own methods, St. Paul is, in fact, warning against the underhand and hypocritical methods adopted by the Judaising party, whether at Antioch, Galatia, or Corinth. In this division of his sermon St. Paul then sets forth the doctrines which were the sum and substance of the teaching which he had given both publicly and from house to house. They were repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and that not only in the case of the Jews, but also of the Greeks. Now here we shall miss the implied reference of St. Paul unless we emphasise the words "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable." His Judaising opponents thought there were many other things profitable for men besides these two points round which St. Paul’s teaching turned. They regarded circumcision and Jewish festivals, washings and sacrifices, as very necessary and very profitable for the Gentiles; while, as far as the Jews were concerned, they thought that the doctrines on which St. Paul insisted might possibly be profitable, but were not at all necessary. St. Paul impresses by his words the great characteristic differences between the Ebionite view of Christ and of Christianity and that catholic view which has regenerated society and become a source of life and light to the human race.

II. We have, then, the prospective portion of his discourse. St. Paul announces his journey to Jerusalem, and professes his ignorance of his fate there. He was warned merely by the testimony of the Holy Spirit that bonds and afflictions were his portion in every city. He was prepared for them, however, and for death itself, so that he might accomplish the ministry with which the Lord Jesus Christ had put him in trust. He concluded this part of his address by expressing his belief that he would never see them again. His work among them was done, and he called them to witness that he was pure from the blood of all men, seeing that he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God. This passage has given rise to much debate, because of St. Paul’s statement that he knew that he should never see them again, while the Epistles to Timothy and that to Titus prove that after St. Paul’s first imprisonment, with the notice of which this book of the Acts ends, he laboured for several years in the neighbourhood of Asia Minor, and paid lengthened visits to Ephesus.

We cannot now bestow space in proving this point, which will be found fully discussed in the various Lives of St. Paul which we have so often quoted: as, for instance, in Lewin, vol. 2; Pg 94, and in Conybeare and Howson, vol. 2. P. 547. We shall now merely indicate the line of proof for this. In the Epistle to Philemon 1:22, written during his first Roman imprisonment, and therefore years subsequent to this address, he indicates his expectation of a speedy deliverance from his bonds, and his determination to travel eastward to Colossae, where Philemon lived. {cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24} He then visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy, who had been his companion in the latter portion of his Roman imprisonment, {cf. Philemon 1:1 and 1 Timothy 1:3} expecting soon to return to him in the same city; [1 Timothy 3:14] while again in 2 Timothy 1:18 he speaks of Onesiphorus having ministered to himself in Ephesus, and then in the same Epistle, [Ephesians 4:26] written during his second Roman imprisonment, he speaks of having just left Trophimus at Miletus sick. This brief outline, which can be followed up in the volumes to which we have referred, and especially in Appendix II in Conybeare and Howson on the date of the Pastoral Epistles, must suffice to prove that St. Paul was expressing a mere human expectation when he told the Ephesian elders that he should see their faces no more. St. Luke, in fact, thus shows us that St. Paul was not omniscient in his knowledge, and that the inspiration which he possessed did not remove him, as some persons think, out of the category of ordinary men or free him from their infirmities. The Apostle was, in fact, supernaturally inspired upon occasions. The Holy Ghost now and again illuminated the darkness of the future when such illumination was necessary for the Church’s guidance; but on other occasions St; Paul and his brother apostles were left to the guidance of their own understandings and to the conclusions and expectations of common sense, else why did not St. Peter and St. John read the character of Ananias and Sapphira or of Simon Magus before their sins were committed? why did St. Peter know nothing of his deliverance from Herod’s prison-house before the angel appeared, when his undissembled surprise is sufficient evidence that he had no expectation of any such rescue? These instances, which might be multiplied abundantly out of St. Paul’s career and writings, show us that St. Paul’s confident statement in this passage was a mere human anticipation which was disappointed by the course of events. The supernatural knowledge of the apostles ran on precisely the same lines as their supernatural power. God bestowed them both for use according as He saw fit and beneficial, but not for common ordinary everyday purposes, else why did St. Paul leave Trophimus at Miletus sick, or endure the tortures of his own ophthalmia, or exhort Timothy to take a little wine on account of his bodily weakness, if he could have healed them all by his miraculous power? Before we leave this point we may notice that here we have an incidental proof of the early date of the composition of the Acts. St. Luke, as we have often maintained, wrote this book about the close of St. Paul’s first imprisonment. Assuredly if he had written it at a later period, and above all, if he wrote it twenty years later, he would have either modified the words of his synopsis of St. Paul’s speech, or else given us a hint that subsequent events had shown that the Apostle was mistaken in his expectations, a thing which he could easily have done, because he cherished none of these extreme notions about St. Paul’s office and dignity which have led some to assume that it was impossible for him ever to make a mistake about the smallest matters.

III. This discourse, again, is hortatory, and its exhortations contain very important doctrinal statements. St. Paul begins this third division with an exhortation like that which our Lord gave to His Apostles under the same circumstances, "Take heed unto yourselves." The Apostle never forgot that an effective ministry of souls must be based on deep personal knowledge of the things of God. He knew, too, from his own experience that it is very easy to be so completely taken up with the care of other men’s souls and the external work of the Church, as to forget that inner life which can only be kept alive by close communion with God. Then, having based his exhortations on their own spiritual life, he exhorts the elders to diligence in the pastoral office: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the Church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." St. Paul in these words shows us his estimate of the ministerial office. The elders of Ephesus had been all ordained by St. Paul himself with the imposition of hands, a rite that has ever been esteemed essential to ordination. It was derived from the Jewish Church, and was perpetuated into the Christian Church by that same spirit of conservatism, that law of continuity which in every department of life enacts that everything shall continue as it was unless there be some circumstance to cause an alteration. Now there was no cause for alteration in this case; nay, rather, there was every reason to bring about a continuance of this custom, because imposition of hands indicates for the people the persons ordained, and assures the ordained themselves that they have been individually chosen and set apart. But St.. Paul by these words teaches us a higher and nobler view of the ministry. He teaches us that he was himself but the instrument of a higher power, and that the imposition of hands was the sign and symbol to the ordained that the Holy Ghost had chosen them and appointed them to feed the flock of God. St. Paul here shows that in ordination, as in the sacraments, we should by faith look away beyond and behind the human instrument, and view the actions of the Church of Christ as the very operations and manifestations in the world of time and sense of the Holy Ghost Himself, the Lord and Giver of life. He teaches the Ephesian elders, in fact, exactly what he taught the Corinthian Church some few months earlier, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves"; [2 Corinthians 4:7] the treasure and the power were everything, the only things, in fact, worth naming, the earthen vessels which contained them for a little time were nothing at all. How awful, solemn, heart-searching a view of the ministerial office this was! How sustaining a view when its holders are called upon to discharge functions for which they feel themselves all inadequate in their natural strength! Is it any wonder that the Church, taking the same view as St. Paul did, has ever held and taught that the ministerial office thus conferred by supernatural power is no mere human function to be taken up or laid down at man’s pleasure, but is a life-long office to be discharged at the holder’s peril, -a savour of life unto life for the worthy recipient, a savour of death unto death for the unworthy and the careless.

In connection with this statement made by St. Paul concerning the source of the ministry we find a title given to the Ephesian presbyters round which much controversy has centred. St. Paul says, "Take heed unto the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you Bishops." I do not, however, propose to spend much time over this topic, as all parties are now agreed that in the New Testament the term presbyter and bishop are interchangeable and applied to the same persons. The question to be decided is not about a name, but an office, whether, in fact, any persons succeeded in apostolic times to the office of rule and government exercised by St. Paul and the rest of the apostles, as Well as by Timothy, Titus, and the other delegates of the Apostle, and whether the term bishop, as used in the second century, was applied to such successors of the apostles. This, however, is not a question which comes directly within the purview of an expositor of the Acts of the Apostles, as the appointment of Timothy and Titus to manage the affairs of the Church in Ephesus and in Crete lies beyond the period covered by the text of the Acts, and properly belongs to the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. St. Paul’s words in this connection have, however, an important bearing on fundamental doctrinal questions connected with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks of the presbyters as called "to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." These words are very strong, so strong indeed that various readings have been put forward to mitigate their force. Some have read "Lord" instead of "God," others have substituted Christ for it; but the Revised Version, following the text of Westcott and Hort, have accepted the strongest form of the verse on purely critical ground, and translates it as "the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." This passage, then, is decisive as to the Christological views of St. Luke and the Pauline circle generally. They believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that they hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God, an expression which some fifty years afterwards we find in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, where St. Ignatius speaks of them as "kindled into living fire by the blood of God," and a hundred years later still, in Tertullian, "Ad Uxor.," 2:3. This passage has been used in scientific theology as the basis of a principle or theory called the "Communicatio Idiomatum," a theory which finds an illustration in two other notable passages of Scripture, John 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the former passage our Lord says of Himself, "No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven," where the Son of man is spoken of as in heaven as well as upon earth at the same time, though the Son of man, according to His humanity, could only be in one place at a time. In the second passage St. Paul says, "Which none of the rulers of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory," where crucifixion is attributed to the Lord of Glory, a title derived from His Divine nature. Now the term "Communicatio Idiomature," or "transference of peculiar properties," is given to this usage because in all these texts the properties of the nature pertaining either to God or to man are spoken of as if they belonged to the other; or, to put it far better in the stately language of Hooker, 5, 53., where he speaks of "those cross and circulatory speeches wherein there are attributed to God such things as belong to manhood, and to man such as properly concern the deity of Jesus Christ, the cause whereof is the association of natures in one subject. A kind of mutual commutation there is, whereby those concrete names, God and man, when we speak of Christ, do take interchangeably one another’s room, so that for truth of speech it skilleth not whether we say that the Son of God hath created the world and the Son of man by His death hath saved it, or else that the Son of man did create and the Son of God did die to save the world." This is a subject of profound speculative and doctrinal interest, not only in connection with the apostolic view of our Lord’s Person, but also in reference to the whole round of methodised and scientific theology. We cannot, however, afford further space for this subject. We must be content to have pointed it out as an interesting topic of inquiry, and, merely referring the reader to Hooker and to Liddon’s Bampton Lectures (Lect. 5.) for more information, must hurry on to a conclusion. St. Paul terminates this part of his discourse with expressing his belief in the rapid development of false doctrines and false guides as soon as his repressive influence shall have been removed; a belief which the devout student of the New Testament will find to have been realised when 1 Timothy 1:20, in 2 Timothy 1:15, and 2 Timothy 2:17-18 he finds the Apostle warning the youthful Bishop of Ephesus against Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had turned all Asia away from St. Paul, and against Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who had imbibed the Gnostic error concerning matter, which had already led the Corinthians to deny the future character of the Resurrection. St. Paul then terminates his discourse with a solemn commendation of the Ephesian elders to that Divine grace which is as necessary for an apostle as for the humblest Christian. He exhorts them to self-sacrifice and self-denial, reminding them of his own example, having supported himself and his companions by his labour as a tentmaker at Ephesus, and above all of the words of the Lord Jesus, which they apparently knew from some source which has not come down to us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When the Apostle had thus terminated his address, which doubtless was a very lengthened one, he knelt down, probably on the shore, as we shall find him kneeling in the next chapter [Acts 21:5-6] on the shore at Tyre. He then commended them in solemn prayer to God, and they all parted in deep sorrow on account of the final separation which St. Paul’s words indicated as imminent; for though the primitive Christians believed in the reality of the next life with an intensity of faith of which we have no conception, and longed for its peace and rest, yet they gave free scope to those natural affections which bind men one to another according to the flesh and were sanctified by the Master Himself when He wept by the grave of Lazarus. Christianity is not a religion of stoical apathy, but of sanctified human affections.


Verse 7

Chapter 16

ST. PAUL AND THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.

Acts 20:1; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:17-19; Acts 20:28

THE period of St. Paul’s career at which we have now arrived was full of life, vigour, activity. He was in the very height of his powers, was surrounded with responsibilities, was pressed with cares and anxieties; and yet the character of the sacred narrative is very peculiar. From the passover of the year 57, soon after which the Apostle had to leave Ephesus, till the passover of the next year, we learn but very little of St. Paul’s work from the narrative of St. Luke. The five verses with which the twentieth chapter begins tell us all that St. Luke apparently knew about the Apostle’s actions during that time. He gives us the story of a mere outsider, who knew next to nothing of the work St. Paul was doing. The Apostle left Ephesus and went into Macedonia, whence he departed into Greece. Three months were occupied in teaching at Corinth, and then, intending to sail from Cenchreae to Ephesus, he suddenly changed his mind upon the discovery of a Jewish plot, altered his route, disappointed his foes, and paid a second visit to Macedonia. In this narrative, which is all St. Luke gives, we have the account, brief and concise, of one who was acquainted merely with the bare outlines of the Apostle’s work, and knew nothing of his inner life and trials. St. Luke, in fact, was so much taken up with his own duties at Philippi, where he had been labouring for the previous five years, that he had no time to think of what was going on elsewhere. At any rate his friend and pupil Theophilus had simply asked him for a narrative so far as he knew it of the progress of the gospel. He had no idea that he was writing anything more than a story for the private use of Theophilus, and he therefore put down what he knew and had experienced, without troubling himself concerning other matters. I have read criticisms of the Acts-proceeding principally, I must confess, from German sources-which seem to proceed on the supposition that St. Luke was consciously writing an ecclesiastical history of the whole early Church which he knew and felt was destined to serve for ages. But this was evidently not the case. St. Luke was consciously writing a story merely for a friend’s study, and dreamt not of the wider fame and use destined for his. book. This accounts in a simple and natural way, not only for what St. Luke inserts, but also for what he leaves out, and he manifestly left out a great deal. We may take this passage at which we have now arrived as an illustration of his methods of writing sacred history. This period of ten months, from the time St. Paul left Ephesus till he returned to Philippi at the following Easter season, was filled with most important labours which have borne fruit unto all ages of the Church, yet St. Luke dismisses them in a few words. Just let us realise what happened in these eventful months. St. Paul wrote First Corinthians in April A.D. 57. In May he passed to Troas, where, as we learn from Second Corinthians, he laboured for a short time with much success. He then passed into Macedonia, urged on by his restless anxiety concerning the Corinthian Church. In Macedonia. he laboured during the following five or six months. How intense and absorbing must have been his work during that time! It was then that he preached the gospel with signs and wonders round about even unto Illyricum, as he notes in Romans 16:19, an epistle written this very year from Corinth. The last time that he had been in Macedonia he was a hunted fugitive fleeing from place to place. Now he seems to have lived in comparative peace, so far at least as the Jewish synagogues were concerned. He penetrated, therefore, into the mountainous districts west of Beroea, bearing the gospel tidings into cities and villages which had as yet heard nothing of them. But preaching was not his only work in Macedonia. He had written his first Epistle to Corinth from Ephesus a few months before. In Macedonia he received from Titus, his messenger, an account of the manner in which that epistle had been received, and so from Macedonia he despatched his second Corinthian Epistle, which must be carefully studied if we desire to get an adequate idea of the labours and anxieties amid which the Apostle was then immersed. {see 2 Corinthians 2:13, and 2 Corinthians 7:5-6} And then he passed into Greece, where he spent three months at Corinth, settling the affairs of that very celebrated but very disorderly Christian community. The three months spent there must have been a period of overwhelming business. Let us recount the subjects which must have taken up every moment of St. Paul’s time. First there were the affairs ‘of the Corinthian Church itself. He had to reprove, comfort, direct, set in order. The whole moral, spiritual, social, intellectual conceptions of Corinth had gone wrong. There was not a question, from the most elementary topic of morals and the social considerations connected with female dress and activities, to the most solemn points of doctrine and worship, the Resurrection and the Holy Communion, concerning which difficulties, disorders, and dissensions had not been raised. All these had to be investigated and decided by the Apostle. Then, again, the Jewish controversy, anti the oppositions to himself personally which the Judaising party had excited, demanded his careful attention. This controversy was a troublesome one in Corinth just then, but it was a still more troublesome one in Galatia, and was fast raising its head in Rome. The affairs of both these great and important churches, the one in the East, the other in the West, were pressing upon St. Paul at this very time. While he was immersed in all the local troubles of Corinth, he had to find time at Corinth to write the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans. How hard it must have been for the Apostle to concentrate his attention on the affairs of Corinth when his heart and brain were torn with anxieties about the schisms, divisions, and false doctrines which were flourishing among his Galatian converts, or threatening to invade the Church at Rome, where as yet he had not been able to set forth his own conception of gospel truth, and thus fortify the disciples against the attacks of those subtle foes of Christ who were doing their best to turn the Catholic Church into a mere narrow Jewish sect, devoid of all spiritual power and life.

But this was not all, or nearly all. St. Paul was at the same time engaged in organising a great collection throughout all the churches where he had ministered on behalf of the poor Christians at Jerusalem, and he was compelled to walk most warily and carefully in this matter. Every step he took was watched by foes ready to interpret it unfavourably; every appointment he made, every arrangement, no matter how wise or prudent, was the subject of keenest scrutiny and criticism. With all these various matters accumulating upon him it is no wonder that St. Paul should have written of himself at this very period in words which vividly describe his distractions: "Beside those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the care of all the churches." And yet St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the greatness of his soul as we read the epistles which were the outcome of this period of intense but fruitful labour. He carried a mighty load, but yet he carried it lightly. His present anxieties were numerous, but they did not shut out all thoughts upon other topics. The busiest man then was just the same as the busiest man still. He was the man who had the most time and leisure to bestow thought upon the future. The anxieties and worries of the present were numerous and exacting, but St. Paul did not allow his mind to be so swallowed up in them as to shut out all care about other questions equally important. While he was engaged in the manifold cares which present controversies brought, he was all the while meditating a mission to Rome, and contemplating a journey still farther to Spain and Gaul and the bounds of the Western ocean. And then, finally, there was the care of St. Paul’s own soul, the sustenance and development of his spirit by prayer and meditation and worship and reading, which he never neglected under any circumstances. All these things combined must have rendered this period of close upon twelve months one of the Apostle’s busiest and in-tensest times, and yet St. Luke disposes of it in a few brief verses of this twentieth chapter.

After St. Paul’s stay at Corinth, he determined to proceed to Jerusalem according to his predetermined plan, bringing with him the proceeds of the collection which he had made. He wished to go by sea, as he had done some three years before, sailing from Cenchreae direct to Syria. The Jews of Corinth, however, were as hostile as ever, and so they hatched a plot to murder him before his embarkation. St. Paul, however, having learned their designs, suddenly changed his route, and took his journey by land through Macedonia, visiting once more his former converts and tarrying to keep the passover at Philippi with the little company of Christian Jews who there resided. This circumstance throws light upon verses 4 and 5 of this twentieth chapter, which run thus: "There accompanied him as far as Asia Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas." St. Paul came to Philippi, found St. Luke there, celebrated the passover, and then sailed away with St. Luke to join the company who had gone before. And they had gone before for a very good reason. They were ‘all, except Timothy, Gentile Christians, persons therefore who, unlike St. Paul, had nothing to do with the national rites and customs of born Jews, and who might be much more profitably exercised in working among the Gentile converts at Troas, free from any danger of either giving or taking offence in connection with the passover, a lively instance of which danger Trophimus, one of their number, subsequently afforded in Jerusalem, when his presence alone in St. Paul’s company caused the spread of a rumour which raised the riot so fatal to St. Paul’s liberty: "For they had seen with him in the city. Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple." [Acts 21:29] This incident, together with St. Paul’s conduct at Jerusalem, as told in the twenty-sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter, illustrates vividly St. Paul’s view of the Jewish law and Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were for Jews national ceremonies. They had a meaning for them. They commemorated certain national deliverances, and as such might be lawfully used. St. Paul himself could eat the passover and cherish the feelings of a Jew, heartily thankful to God for the deliverance from Egypt wrought out through Moses centuries ago for his ancestors, and his mind could then go on and rejoice over a greater deliverance still wrought out at this same paschal season by a greater than Moses. St. Paul openly proclaimed the, lawfulness of the Jewish rites for Jews, but opposed their imposition upon the Gentiles. He regarded them as tolerabiles ineptiae, and therefore observed them to please his weaker brethren; but sent his Gentile converts on before, lest perhaps the sight of his own example might weaken their faith and lead them to a compliance with that Judaising party who were ever ready to avail themselves of any opportunity to weaken St. Paul’s teaching and authority. St. Paul always strove to unite wisdom and prudence with faithfulness to principle lest by any means his labour should be in vain.

St. Luke now joined St. Paul at Philippi, and henceforth gives his own account of what happened on this eventful journey. From Philippi they crossed to Troas. It was the spring-time, and the weather was more boisterous than later in the year, and so the voyage took five days to accomplish, while two days had sufficed on a previous occasion. They came to Troas, and there remained for a week, owing doubtless to the exigencies of the ship and its cargo. On the first day of the week St. Paul assembled the Church for worship. The meeting was held on what we should call Saturday evening; but we must remember that the Jewish first day began from sundown on Saturday or the Sabbath. This is the first notice in the Acts of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the time of special Christian worship. We have, however, earlier notices of the-first day in connection with Christian observances. The apostles, for instance, met together on the first day, as we are told in John 20:19, and again eight days after, as the twenty-sixth verse of the same chapter tells. St. Paul’s first Epistle to Corinth was written twelve months earlier than this visit to Troas, and it expressly mentions [1 Corinthians 16:2] the first day of the week as the time ordered by St. Paul for the setting apart of the Galatian contribution to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem; and so here again at Troas we see that the Asiastic Christians observed the same solemn time for worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. Such glimpses-chance notices, we might call them, were there not a higher Providence watching over the unconscious writer-show us how little we can conclude from mere silence about the ritual, worship, and government of the Apostolic Church, and illustrate the vast importance of studying carefully the extant records of the Christian Church in the second century if we wish to gain fresh light upon the history and customs of the apostolic age. If three or four brief texts were blotted out of the New Testament, it would be quite possible to argue from Silence merely that the apostles and their immediate followers did not observe the Lord’s Day in any way whatsoever, and that the custom of stated worship and solemn eucharistic celebrations on that day were a corruption introduced in post-apostolic times. The best interpreters of the New Testament are, as John Wesley long ago well pointed out in his preface to his celebrated but now almost unknown Christian Library, the apostolic fathers and the writers of the age next following the apostles. We may take it for a certain rule of interpretation that, whenever we find a widely established practice or custom mentioned in the writings of a Christian author of the second century, it originated in apostolic times. It was only natural that this should have been the case. We are all inclined to venerate the past, and to cry it up as the golden age. Now this tendency must have been intensified tenfold in the case of the Christians of the second century. The first century was the time of our Lord and the age of the apostles. Sacred memories clustered thick round it, and every ceremony and rite which came from that time must have been profoundly reverenced, while every new ceremony or custom must have been rudely challenged, and its author keenly scrutinised as one who presumptuously thought he could improve upon the wisdom of men respired by the Holy Ghost and miraculously gifted by God. It is for this reason we regard the second-century doctors and apologists as the best commentary upon the sacred writers, because in them we see the Church of the apostolic age living, acting, displaying itself amid the circumstances and scenes of actual life.

Just let us take as an illustration the case of this observance of the first day of the week. The Acts of the Apostles tells us but very little about it, simply because there is but little occasion to mention what must have seemed to St. Luke one of the commonest and best-known facts. But Justin Martyr some eighty years later was describing Christianity for the Roman Emperor. He was defending it against the outrageous and immoral charges brought against it, and depicting the purity, the innocency, and simplicity of its sacred rites. Among other subjects dealt with, he touches upon the time when Christians offered up formal and stated worship. It was absolutely necessary therefore for him to treat of the subject of the Lord’s Day. In the sixty-seventh chapter of Justin’s First "Apology," we find him describing the Christian weekly festival in words which throw back an interesting light upon the language of St. Luke touching the Lord’s Day which St. Paul passed at Troas. Justin writes thus on this topic: "Upon the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together unto one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And those who are well to do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead." This passage gives us a full account of Christian customs in the first half of the second century, when thousands must have been still alive who remembered the times of the apostles, enabling us to realise what must have been the character of the assembly and of the worship in which St. Paul played a leading part at Troas.

There was, however, a difference between the celebration at Troas and the celebrations of which Justin Martyr speaks, though we learn not of this difference from Justin himself, but from Pliny’s letter to Trajan, concerning which we have often spoken. St. Paul met the Christians of Troas in the evening, and celebrated the Holy Communion with them about midnight. It was the first day of the week according to Jewish computation, though it was what we should call Saturday evening. The ship in which the apostolic company was travelling was about to sail on the morrow, and so St. Paul gladly joined the local church in its weekly breaking of bread. It was exactly the same here at Troas as reported by St. Luke, as it was at Corinth, where the evening celebrations were turned into occasions of gluttony and ostentation, as St. Paul tells us in the eleventh of First Corinthians. The Christians evidently met at this time in the evening to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It has been often thought that St. Paul, having referred just twelve months before in the First Corinthian Epistle to the gross abuses connected with the evening celebrations at Corinth, and having promised to set the abuses of Corinth in order when he visited that church, did actually change the time of the celebration of Holy Communion from the evening to the morning, when he spent the three months there of which this chapter speaks. Perhaps he did make the change, but we have no information on the point; and if he did make the change for Corinth, it is evident that he did not intend to impose it as a rule upon the whole Christian Church, when a few weeks after leaving Corinth he celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Troas in the evening. By the second century, however, the change had been made. Justin Martyr indeed does not give a hint as to the time when Holy Communion was administered in the passages to which we have referred. He tells us that none but baptised persons were-admitted to partake of it, but gives us no minor details. Pliny, however, writing of the state of affairs in Bithynia, -and it bordered upon the province where Troas was situated, -tells us from the confession extracted out of apostate Christians that "the whole of their fault lay in this, that they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a sacrament (or oath) not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft or robbery or adultery." After this early service they then separated, and assembled again in the evening to partake of a common meal. The Agape or Love-Feast was united with the Holy Communion in St. Paul’s day. Experience, however, showed that Such a union must lead to grave abuses, and so in that final consolidation which the Church received during the last quarter of the first century, when the Lord’s Second Coming was seen to be not so immediate as some at first expected, the two institutions were divided; the Holy Communion being appointed as the early morning service of the Lord’s Day, while the Agape was left in its original position as an evening meal. And so have matters continued ever since. The Agape indeed has almost died out. A trace of it perhaps remains in the blessed bread distributed in Roman Catholic Churches on the Continent; while again the love feasts instituted by John Wesley and continued among his followers were an avowed imitation of this primitive institution. The Agape continued indeed in vigorous existence for centuries, but it was almost always found associated with grave abuses. It might have been innocent and useful so long as Christian love continued to burn with the fervour of apostolic days, though even then, as Corinth showed, there were lurking dangers in it; but when we reach the fourth and fifth centuries we find council after council denouncing the evils of the Agape, and restricting its celebration with such effect that during the Middle Ages it ceased to exist as a distinctive Christian ordinance. The change of the Holy Communion to the earlier portion of the day took almost Universal effect, and that from the earliest times. Tertullian ("De Corona," 3.) testifies that in his time the Eucharist was received before daybreak, though Christ had instituted it at a mealtime. Cyprian witnesses to the same usage in his sixty-third Epistle, where he speaks of Christ as instituting the Sacrament in the evening, that "the very hour of the sacrifice might intimate the evening of the world," but then describes himself as "celebrating the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." St. Augustine, as quoted above, writing about 400, speaks of fasting communion as the general rule; so general, indeed, that he regards it as having come down from apostolic appointment. At the same time St. Augustine recognises the time of its original institution, and mentions the custom of the African Church which once a year had an evening communion on Thursday before Easter in remembrance of the Last Supper and of our Lord’s action in connection with it. My own feeling on the matter is, that early fasting communion, when there are health and strength, is far the most edifying. There is an element of self-denial about it, and the more real self-denial there is about our worship the more blessed will that worship be. A worship that costs nothing in mind, body, or estate is but a very poor thing to offer unto the Lord of the universe. But there is no ground either in Holy Scripture or the history of the primitive Church justifying an attempt to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which they cannot bear and to teach that fasting communion is binding upon all Christians. St. Augustine speaks most strongly in a passage we have already referred to (Epist. 118., "Ad Januar.") about the benefit of fasting communion; but he admits the lawfulness of non-fasting participation, as does also that great Greek divine St. Chrysostom, who quotes the examples of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself in justification of such a course.

The celebration of the Eucharist was not the only subject which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas. He preached unto the people as well; and following his example we find from Justin Martyr’s narrative that preaching was an essential part of the communion office in the days immediately following the apostles’ age; and then, descending to lower times still, we know that preaching is an equally essential portion of the eucharistic service in the Western Church, the only formal provision for a sermon according to the English liturgy being the rubric in the service for the Holy Communion, which lays down that after the Nicene Creed, "Then shall follow the sermon or one of the Homilies already set forth, or hereafter to be set forth, by authority." St. Paul’s discourse was no mere mechanical homily, however. He was not what man regarded as a powerful, but he was a ready speaker, and one who carried his hearers away by the rapt, intense earnestness of his manner. His whole soul was full of his subject. He was convinced that this was his last visit to the churches of Asia. He foresaw, too, a thousand dangers to which they would be exposed after his departure, and he therefore prolonged his sermon far into the night, so far indeed that human nature asserted its claims upon a young man named Eutychus, who sat in a window of a room Where they were assembled. Human nature indeed was never for a moment absent from these primitive Church assemblies. If it was absent in one shape, it was present in another, just as really as in our modern congregations, and so Eutychus fell fast asleep under the heart-searching exhortations of an inspired apostle, even as men fall asleep. under less powerful sermons of smaller men; and as the natural result, sitting in a window left open for the sake of ventilation, he fell down into the courtyard, and was taken up apparently lifeless. St. Paul was not put out, however. He took interruptions in his work as the Master took them. He was not upset by them, but he seized them, utilised them, and then, having extracted the sweetness and blessedness which they brought with them, he returned from them back to his interrupted work. St. Paul descended to Eutychus, found him in a lifeless state, and then restored him. Men have disputed whether the Apostle worked a miracle on this occasion, or merely perceived that the young man was in a temporary faint. I do not see that it makes any matter which opinion we form. St. Paul’s supernatural and miraculous powers stand on quite an independent ground, no matter what way we decide this particular case. It seems to me indeed from the language of St. Paul-"Make ye no ado; for his life is in him"-that the young man had merely fainted, and that St. Paul recognised this fact as soon as he touched him. But if any one has strong opinions on the opposite side I should be sorry to spend time disputing a question which has absolutely no evidential bearing. The great point is, that Eutychus was restored, that St. Paul’s long sermon was attended by no fatal consequences, and that the Apostle has left us a striking example showing how that, with pastors and people alike, intense enthusiasm, high-strung interest in the affairs of the spiritual world, can enable human nature to rise superior to all human wants, and prove itself master even of the conquering powers of sleep: "And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a tong while, even till break of day, so he departed."

We know nothing of what the particular topics were which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas, but we may guess them from the subject-matter of the address to the elders of Ephesus, which takes up the latter half of this twentieth chapter. Troas and Ephesus, in fact, were so near and so similarly circumstanced that the dangers and trials of both must have been much alike. He next passed from Troas to Miletus. This is a considerable journey along the western shore of Asia Minor. St. Paul was eagerly striving to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, or by Whitsuntide, as we should say. He had left Philippi after Easter, and now there had elapsed more than a fortnight of the seven weeks which remained available for the journey to Jerusalem. How often St. Paul must have chafed against the manifold delays of the trading vessel in which he sailed; how frequently he must have counted the days to see if sufficient time remained to execute his purpose! St. Paul, however, was a rigid economist of time. He saved every fragment of it as carefully as possible. It was thus with him at Troas. The ship in which he was travelling left Troas early in the morning. It had to round a promontory in its way to the port of Assos, which could be reached direct by St. Paul in half the time. The Apostle therefore took the shorter route, while St. Luke and his companions embarked on board the vessel. St. Paul evidently chose the land route because it gave him a time of solitary communion with God and with himself. He felt, in fact, that the perpetual strain upon his spiritual nature demanded special spiritual support and refreshment, which could only be obtained in the case of one who led such a busy life by seizing upon every such occasion as then offered for meditation and prayer. St. Paul left Troas some time on Sunday morning. He joined the ship at Assos, and after three days’ coasting voyage landed at Miletus on Wednesday, whence he despatched a messenger summoning the’ elders of the Church of Ephesus to meet him. The ship was evidently to make a delay of several days at Miletus. We conclude this from the following reason. Miletus is a town separated by a distance of thirty miles from Ephesus. A space therefore of at least two days would be required in order to secure the presence of the Ephesian elders. If a messenger-St. Luke, for instance-started immediately on St. Paul’s arrival at Miletus, no matter how quickly he travelled, he could not arrive at Miletus sooner than Thursday at midday. The work of collecting the elders and making known to them the apostolic summons would take up the afternoon at least, and then the journey to Ephesus, either by land or water, must have occupied the whole of Friday. It is very possible that the sermon recorded in this twentieth of Acts was delivered, on the Sabbath, which, as we have noted above, was as yet kept sacred by Christians as well as by Jews, or else upon the Lord’s Day, when, as upon that day week at Troas, the elders of Ephesus had assembled with the Christians of Miletus in order to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.

We have already pointed out that we know not the subject of St. Paul’s sermon at Troas, but we do know the topics upon which he enlarged at Miletus, and we may conclude that, considering the circumstances of the time, they must have been much the same as those upon which he dwelt at Troas. Some critics have found fault with St. Paul’s sermon as being quite too much taken up with himself and his own vindication. But they forget the peculiar position in which St. Paul was placed, and the manner in which the truth of the gospel was then associated in the closest manner with St. Paul’s own personal character and teaching. The Apostle was just then assailed all over the Christian world wherever he had laboured, and even sometimes where he was only known by name, with the most frightful charges; ambition, pride, covetousness, deceit, lying, all these things and much more were imputed to him by his opponents, who wished to seduce the Gentiles from that simplicity and liberty in Christ into which he had led them. Corinth had been desolated by such teachers; Galatia had succumbed to them; Asia was in great peril. St. Paul therefore, foreseeing future dangers, warned the shepherds of the flock at Ephesus against the machinations of his enemies, who always began their preliminary operations by making attacks upon St. Paul’s character. This sufficiently explains the apologetic tone of St. Paul’s address, of which we have doubtless merely a brief and condensed abstract indicating the subjects of a prolonged conversation with the elders of Ephesus, Miletus, and such neighbouring churches as could be gathered together. We conclude that St. Paul’s conference on this occasion must have been a long one for this reason. If St. Paul could find matter sufficient to engage his attention for a whole night, from sundown till sunrise, in a place like Troas, where he had laboured but a very short time, how much more must he have found to say to the presbyters of the numerous congregations which must have been flourishing at Ephesus, where he had laboured for years with such success as to make Christianity a prominent feature in the social and religious life of that idolatrous city!

Let us now notice some of the topics of this address. It may be divided into four portions. The first part is retrospective, and autobiographical; the second is prospective, and sets forth his conception of his future course; the third is hortatory, expounding the dangers threatening the Ephesian Church; and the fourth is valedictory.

I We have the biographical portion. He begins his discourse by recalling to the minds of his hearers his own manner of life, -"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 by the plots of the Jews"; words which show us that from the earliest portion of his ministry at Ephesus, and as soon as they realised the meaning of his message, the Jews had become as hostile to the Apostle at Ephesus as they had repeatedly shown themselves at Corinth, again and again making attempts upon his life. The foundations indeed of the Ephesian Church were laid in the synagogue during the first three months of his work, as we are expressly told in Acts 19:8; but the Ephesian Church must have been predominantly Gentile in its composition, or else the language of Demetrius must have been exaggerated and the riot raised by him meaningless. How could Demetrius have said, "Ye see that at Ephesus this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods which are made with hands," unless the vast majority of his converts were drawn from the ranks of those pagans who worshipped Diana? These words also show us that during his extended ministry at Ephesus he was left at peace by the heathen. St. Paul here makes no mention of trials experienced from pagan plots. He speaks of the Jews alone as making assaults upon his work or his person, incidentally confirming the statement of Acts 19:23, that it was only when he was purposing to retire from Ephesus, and during the celebration of the Artemisian games which marked his last days there, that the opposition of the pagans developed itself in a violent shape.

St. Paul begins his address by fixing upon Jewish opposition outside the Church as his great trial at Ephesus, just as the same kind of opposition inside the Church had been his great trial at Corinth, and was yet destined to be a source of trial to him in the Ephesian Church itself, as we can see from the Pastoral Epistles. He then proceeds to speak of the doctrines he had taught and how he had taught them; reminding them "how that I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul sets forth his manner of teaching. He taught publicly, and public teaching was most effective in his case, because he came armed with a double power, the powers of spiritual and of intellectual preparation. St. Paul was not a man who thought that prayer and spiritual life could dispense with thought and mental culture. Or again, he would be the last to tolerate the idea that diligent visitation from house to house would make up for the neglect of that public teaching which he so constantly and so profitably practised. Public preaching and teaching, pastoral visitation and work, are two distinct branches of labour, which at various periods of the Church’s history have been regarded in very different lights. St. Paul evidently viewed them as equally important; the tendency in the present age is, however, to decry and neglect preaching and to exalt pastoral work-including under that head Church services-out of its due position. This is, indeed, a great and lamentable mistake. The "teaching publicly" to which St. Paul refers is the only opportunity which the majority of men possess of hearing the authorised ministers of religion, and if the latter neglect the office of public preaching, and think the fag end of a week devoted to external and secular labours and devoid of any mental study and preparation stirring the soul and refreshing the spirit, to be quite sufficient for pulpit preparation, they cannot be surprised if men come to despise the religion that is presented in such a miserable light and by such inefficient ambassadors.

St. Paul insists in this passage on the publicity and boldness of his teaching. There was no secrecy about him, no hypocrisy; he did not come pretending one view or one line of doctrine, and then, having stolen in secretly, teaching a distinct system. In this passage, which may seem laudatory of his own methods, St. Paul is, in fact, warning against the underhand and hypocritical methods adopted by the Judaising party, whether at Antioch, Galatia, or Corinth. In this division of his sermon St. Paul then sets forth the doctrines which were the sum and substance of the teaching which he had given both publicly and from house to house. They were repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and that not only in the case of the Jews, but also of the Greeks. Now here we shall miss the implied reference of St. Paul unless we emphasise the words "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable." His Judaising opponents thought there were many other things profitable for men besides these two points round which St. Paul’s teaching turned. They regarded circumcision and Jewish festivals, washings and sacrifices, as very necessary and very profitable for the Gentiles; while, as far as the Jews were concerned, they thought that the doctrines on which St. Paul insisted might possibly be profitable, but were not at all necessary. St. Paul impresses by his words the great characteristic differences between the Ebionite view of Christ and of Christianity and that catholic view which has regenerated society and become a source of life and light to the human race.

II. We have, then, the prospective portion of his discourse. St. Paul announces his journey to Jerusalem, and professes his ignorance of his fate there. He was warned merely by the testimony of the Holy Spirit that bonds and afflictions were his portion in every city. He was prepared for them, however, and for death itself, so that he might accomplish the ministry with which the Lord Jesus Christ had put him in trust. He concluded this part of his address by expressing his belief that he would never see them again. His work among them was done, and he called them to witness that he was pure from the blood of all men, seeing that he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God. This passage has given rise to much debate, because of St. Paul’s statement that he knew that he should never see them again, while the Epistles to Timothy and that to Titus prove that after St. Paul’s first imprisonment, with the notice of which this book of the Acts ends, he laboured for several years in the neighbourhood of Asia Minor, and paid lengthened visits to Ephesus.

We cannot now bestow space in proving this point, which will be found fully discussed in the various Lives of St. Paul which we have so often quoted: as, for instance, in Lewin, vol. 2; Pg 94, and in Conybeare and Howson, vol. 2. P. 547. We shall now merely indicate the line of proof for this. In the Epistle to Philemon 1:22, written during his first Roman imprisonment, and therefore years subsequent to this address, he indicates his expectation of a speedy deliverance from his bonds, and his determination to travel eastward to Colossae, where Philemon lived. {cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24} He then visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy, who had been his companion in the latter portion of his Roman imprisonment, {cf. Philemon 1:1 and 1 Timothy 1:3} expecting soon to return to him in the same city; [1 Timothy 3:14] while again in 2 Timothy 1:18 he speaks of Onesiphorus having ministered to himself in Ephesus, and then in the same Epistle, [Ephesians 4:26] written during his second Roman imprisonment, he speaks of having just left Trophimus at Miletus sick. This brief outline, which can be followed up in the volumes to which we have referred, and especially in Appendix II in Conybeare and Howson on the date of the Pastoral Epistles, must suffice to prove that St. Paul was expressing a mere human expectation when he told the Ephesian elders that he should see their faces no more. St. Luke, in fact, thus shows us that St. Paul was not omniscient in his knowledge, and that the inspiration which he possessed did not remove him, as some persons think, out of the category of ordinary men or free him from their infirmities. The Apostle was, in fact, supernaturally inspired upon occasions. The Holy Ghost now and again illuminated the darkness of the future when such illumination was necessary for the Church’s guidance; but on other occasions St; Paul and his brother apostles were left to the guidance of their own understandings and to the conclusions and expectations of common sense, else why did not St. Peter and St. John read the character of Ananias and Sapphira or of Simon Magus before their sins were committed? why did St. Peter know nothing of his deliverance from Herod’s prison-house before the angel appeared, when his undissembled surprise is sufficient evidence that he had no expectation of any such rescue? These instances, which might be multiplied abundantly out of St. Paul’s career and writings, show us that St. Paul’s confident statement in this passage was a mere human anticipation which was disappointed by the course of events. The supernatural knowledge of the apostles ran on precisely the same lines as their supernatural power. God bestowed them both for use according as He saw fit and beneficial, but not for common ordinary everyday purposes, else why did St. Paul leave Trophimus at Miletus sick, or endure the tortures of his own ophthalmia, or exhort Timothy to take a little wine on account of his bodily weakness, if he could have healed them all by his miraculous power? Before we leave this point we may notice that here we have an incidental proof of the early date of the composition of the Acts. St. Luke, as we have often maintained, wrote this book about the close of St. Paul’s first imprisonment. Assuredly if he had written it at a later period, and above all, if he wrote it twenty years later, he would have either modified the words of his synopsis of St. Paul’s speech, or else given us a hint that subsequent events had shown that the Apostle was mistaken in his expectations, a thing which he could easily have done, because he cherished none of these extreme notions about St. Paul’s office and dignity which have led some to assume that it was impossible for him ever to make a mistake about the smallest matters.

III. This discourse, again, is hortatory, and its exhortations contain very important doctrinal statements. St. Paul begins this third division with an exhortation like that which our Lord gave to His Apostles under the same circumstances, "Take heed unto yourselves." The Apostle never forgot that an effective ministry of souls must be based on deep personal knowledge of the things of God. He knew, too, from his own experience that it is very easy to be so completely taken up with the care of other men’s souls and the external work of the Church, as to forget that inner life which can only be kept alive by close communion with God. Then, having based his exhortations on their own spiritual life, he exhorts the elders to diligence in the pastoral office: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the Church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." St. Paul in these words shows us his estimate of the ministerial office. The elders of Ephesus had been all ordained by St. Paul himself with the imposition of hands, a rite that has ever been esteemed essential to ordination. It was derived from the Jewish Church, and was perpetuated into the Christian Church by that same spirit of conservatism, that law of continuity which in every department of life enacts that everything shall continue as it was unless there be some circumstance to cause an alteration. Now there was no cause for alteration in this case; nay, rather, there was every reason to bring about a continuance of this custom, because imposition of hands indicates for the people the persons ordained, and assures the ordained themselves that they have been individually chosen and set apart. But St.. Paul by these words teaches us a higher and nobler view of the ministry. He teaches us that he was himself but the instrument of a higher power, and that the imposition of hands was the sign and symbol to the ordained that the Holy Ghost had chosen them and appointed them to feed the flock of God. St. Paul here shows that in ordination, as in the sacraments, we should by faith look away beyond and behind the human instrument, and view the actions of the Church of Christ as the very operations and manifestations in the world of time and sense of the Holy Ghost Himself, the Lord and Giver of life. He teaches the Ephesian elders, in fact, exactly what he taught the Corinthian Church some few months earlier, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves"; [2 Corinthians 4:7] the treasure and the power were everything, the only things, in fact, worth naming, the earthen vessels which contained them for a little time were nothing at all. How awful, solemn, heart-searching a view of the ministerial office this was! How sustaining a view when its holders are called upon to discharge functions for which they feel themselves all inadequate in their natural strength! Is it any wonder that the Church, taking the same view as St. Paul did, has ever held and taught that the ministerial office thus conferred by supernatural power is no mere human function to be taken up or laid down at man’s pleasure, but is a life-long office to be discharged at the holder’s peril, -a savour of life unto life for the worthy recipient, a savour of death unto death for the unworthy and the careless.

In connection with this statement made by St. Paul concerning the source of the ministry we find a title given to the Ephesian presbyters round which much controversy has centred. St. Paul says, "Take heed unto the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you Bishops." I do not, however, propose to spend much time over this topic, as all parties are now agreed that in the New Testament the term presbyter and bishop are interchangeable and applied to the same persons. The question to be decided is not about a name, but an office, whether, in fact, any persons succeeded in apostolic times to the office of rule and government exercised by St. Paul and the rest of the apostles, as Well as by Timothy, Titus, and the other delegates of the Apostle, and whether the term bishop, as used in the second century, was applied to such successors of the apostles. This, however, is not a question which comes directly within the purview of an expositor of the Acts of the Apostles, as the appointment of Timothy and Titus to manage the affairs of the Church in Ephesus and in Crete lies beyond the period covered by the text of the Acts, and properly belongs to the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. St. Paul’s words in this connection have, however, an important bearing on fundamental doctrinal questions connected with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks of the presbyters as called "to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." These words are very strong, so strong indeed that various readings have been put forward to mitigate their force. Some have read "Lord" instead of "God," others have substituted Christ for it; but the Revised Version, following the text of Westcott and Hort, have accepted the strongest form of the verse on purely critical ground, and translates it as "the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." This passage, then, is decisive as to the Christological views of St. Luke and the Pauline circle generally. They believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that they hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God, an expression which some fifty years afterwards we find in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, where St. Ignatius speaks of them as "kindled into living fire by the blood of God," and a hundred years later still, in Tertullian, "Ad Uxor.," 2:3. This passage has been used in scientific theology as the basis of a principle or theory called the "Communicatio Idiomatum," a theory which finds an illustration in two other notable passages of Scripture, John 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the former passage our Lord says of Himself, "No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven," where the Son of man is spoken of as in heaven as well as upon earth at the same time, though the Son of man, according to His humanity, could only be in one place at a time. In the second passage St. Paul says, "Which none of the rulers of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory," where crucifixion is attributed to the Lord of Glory, a title derived from His Divine nature. Now the term "Communicatio Idiomature," or "transference of peculiar properties," is given to this usage because in all these texts the properties of the nature pertaining either to God or to man are spoken of as if they belonged to the other; or, to put it far better in the stately language of Hooker, 5, 53., where he speaks of "those cross and circulatory speeches wherein there are attributed to God such things as belong to manhood, and to man such as properly concern the deity of Jesus Christ, the cause whereof is the association of natures in one subject. A kind of mutual commutation there is, whereby those concrete names, God and man, when we speak of Christ, do take interchangeably one another’s room, so that for truth of speech it skilleth not whether we say that the Son of God hath created the world and the Son of man by His death hath saved it, or else that the Son of man did create and the Son of God did die to save the world." This is a subject of profound speculative and doctrinal interest, not only in connection with the apostolic view of our Lord’s Person, but also in reference to the whole round of methodised and scientific theology. We cannot, however, afford further space for this subject. We must be content to have pointed it out as an interesting topic of inquiry, and, merely referring the reader to Hooker and to Liddon’s Bampton Lectures (Lect. 5.) for more information, must hurry on to a conclusion. St. Paul terminates this part of his discourse with expressing his belief in the rapid development of false doctrines and false guides as soon as his repressive influence shall have been removed; a belief which the devout student of the New Testament will find to have been realised when 1 Timothy 1:20, in 2 Timothy 1:15, and 2 Timothy 2:17-18 he finds the Apostle warning the youthful Bishop of Ephesus against Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had turned all Asia away from St. Paul, and against Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who had imbibed the Gnostic error concerning matter, which had already led the Corinthians to deny the future character of the Resurrection. St. Paul then terminates his discourse with a solemn commendation of the Ephesian elders to that Divine grace which is as necessary for an apostle as for the humblest Christian. He exhorts them to self-sacrifice and self-denial, reminding them of his own example, having supported himself and his companions by his labour as a tentmaker at Ephesus, and above all of the words of the Lord Jesus, which they apparently knew from some source which has not come down to us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When the Apostle had thus terminated his address, which doubtless was a very lengthened one, he knelt down, probably on the shore, as we shall find him kneeling in the next chapter [Acts 21:5-6] on the shore at Tyre. He then commended them in solemn prayer to God, and they all parted in deep sorrow on account of the final separation which St. Paul’s words indicated as imminent; for though the primitive Christians believed in the reality of the next life with an intensity of faith of which we have no conception, and longed for its peace and rest, yet they gave free scope to those natural affections which bind men one to another according to the flesh and were sanctified by the Master Himself when He wept by the grave of Lazarus. Christianity is not a religion of stoical apathy, but of sanctified human affections.


Verses 17-19

ete_me Acts 20:7

Chapter 16

ST. PAUL AND THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.

Acts 20:1; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:17-19; Acts 20:28

THE period of St. Paul’s career at which we have now arrived was full of life, vigour, activity. He was in the very height of his powers, was surrounded with responsibilities, was pressed with cares and anxieties; and yet the character of the sacred narrative is very peculiar. From the passover of the year 57, soon after which the Apostle had to leave Ephesus, till the passover of the next year, we learn but very little of St. Paul’s work from the narrative of St. Luke. The five verses with which the twentieth chapter begins tell us all that St. Luke apparently knew about the Apostle’s actions during that time. He gives us the story of a mere outsider, who knew next to nothing of the work St. Paul was doing. The Apostle left Ephesus and went into Macedonia, whence he departed into Greece. Three months were occupied in teaching at Corinth, and then, intending to sail from Cenchreae to Ephesus, he suddenly changed his mind upon the discovery of a Jewish plot, altered his route, disappointed his foes, and paid a second visit to Macedonia. In this narrative, which is all St. Luke gives, we have the account, brief and concise, of one who was acquainted merely with the bare outlines of the Apostle’s work, and knew nothing of his inner life and trials. St. Luke, in fact, was so much taken up with his own duties at Philippi, where he had been labouring for the previous five years, that he had no time to think of what was going on elsewhere. At any rate his friend and pupil Theophilus had simply asked him for a narrative so far as he knew it of the progress of the gospel. He had no idea that he was writing anything more than a story for the private use of Theophilus, and he therefore put down what he knew and had experienced, without troubling himself concerning other matters. I have read criticisms of the Acts-proceeding principally, I must confess, from German sources-which seem to proceed on the supposition that St. Luke was consciously writing an ecclesiastical history of the whole early Church which he knew and felt was destined to serve for ages. But this was evidently not the case. St. Luke was consciously writing a story merely for a friend’s study, and dreamt not of the wider fame and use destined for his. book. This accounts in a simple and natural way, not only for what St. Luke inserts, but also for what he leaves out, and he manifestly left out a great deal. We may take this passage at which we have now arrived as an illustration of his methods of writing sacred history. This period of ten months, from the time St. Paul left Ephesus till he returned to Philippi at the following Easter season, was filled with most important labours which have borne fruit unto all ages of the Church, yet St. Luke dismisses them in a few words. Just let us realise what happened in these eventful months. St. Paul wrote First Corinthians in April A.D. 57. In May he passed to Troas, where, as we learn from Second Corinthians, he laboured for a short time with much success. He then passed into Macedonia, urged on by his restless anxiety concerning the Corinthian Church. In Macedonia. he laboured during the following five or six months. How intense and absorbing must have been his work during that time! It was then that he preached the gospel with signs and wonders round about even unto Illyricum, as he notes in Romans 16:19, an epistle written this very year from Corinth. The last time that he had been in Macedonia he was a hunted fugitive fleeing from place to place. Now he seems to have lived in comparative peace, so far at least as the Jewish synagogues were concerned. He penetrated, therefore, into the mountainous districts west of Beroea, bearing the gospel tidings into cities and villages which had as yet heard nothing of them. But preaching was not his only work in Macedonia. He had written his first Epistle to Corinth from Ephesus a few months before. In Macedonia he received from Titus, his messenger, an account of the manner in which that epistle had been received, and so from Macedonia he despatched his second Corinthian Epistle, which must be carefully studied if we desire to get an adequate idea of the labours and anxieties amid which the Apostle was then immersed. {see 2 Corinthians 2:13, and 2 Corinthians 7:5-6} And then he passed into Greece, where he spent three months at Corinth, settling the affairs of that very celebrated but very disorderly Christian community. The three months spent there must have been a period of overwhelming business. Let us recount the subjects which must have taken up every moment of St. Paul’s time. First there were the affairs ‘of the Corinthian Church itself. He had to reprove, comfort, direct, set in order. The whole moral, spiritual, social, intellectual conceptions of Corinth had gone wrong. There was not a question, from the most elementary topic of morals and the social considerations connected with female dress and activities, to the most solemn points of doctrine and worship, the Resurrection and the Holy Communion, concerning which difficulties, disorders, and dissensions had not been raised. All these had to be investigated and decided by the Apostle. Then, again, the Jewish controversy, anti the oppositions to himself personally which the Judaising party had excited, demanded his careful attention. This controversy was a troublesome one in Corinth just then, but it was a still more troublesome one in Galatia, and was fast raising its head in Rome. The affairs of both these great and important churches, the one in the East, the other in the West, were pressing upon St. Paul at this very time. While he was immersed in all the local troubles of Corinth, he had to find time at Corinth to write the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans. How hard it must have been for the Apostle to concentrate his attention on the affairs of Corinth when his heart and brain were torn with anxieties about the schisms, divisions, and false doctrines which were flourishing among his Galatian converts, or threatening to invade the Church at Rome, where as yet he had not been able to set forth his own conception of gospel truth, and thus fortify the disciples against the attacks of those subtle foes of Christ who were doing their best to turn the Catholic Church into a mere narrow Jewish sect, devoid of all spiritual power and life.

But this was not all, or nearly all. St. Paul was at the same time engaged in organising a great collection throughout all the churches where he had ministered on behalf of the poor Christians at Jerusalem, and he was compelled to walk most warily and carefully in this matter. Every step he took was watched by foes ready to interpret it unfavourably; every appointment he made, every arrangement, no matter how wise or prudent, was the subject of keenest scrutiny and criticism. With all these various matters accumulating upon him it is no wonder that St. Paul should have written of himself at this very period in words which vividly describe his distractions: "Beside those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the care of all the churches." And yet St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the greatness of his soul as we read the epistles which were the outcome of this period of intense but fruitful labour. He carried a mighty load, but yet he carried it lightly. His present anxieties were numerous, but they did not shut out all thoughts upon other topics. The busiest man then was just the same as the busiest man still. He was the man who had the most time and leisure to bestow thought upon the future. The anxieties and worries of the present were numerous and exacting, but St. Paul did not allow his mind to be so swallowed up in them as to shut out all care about other questions equally important. While he was engaged in the manifold cares which present controversies brought, he was all the while meditating a mission to Rome, and contemplating a journey still farther to Spain and Gaul and the bounds of the Western ocean. And then, finally, there was the care of St. Paul’s own soul, the sustenance and development of his spirit by prayer and meditation and worship and reading, which he never neglected under any circumstances. All these things combined must have rendered this period of close upon twelve months one of the Apostle’s busiest and in-tensest times, and yet St. Luke disposes of it in a few brief verses of this twentieth chapter.

After St. Paul’s stay at Corinth, he determined to proceed to Jerusalem according to his predetermined plan, bringing with him the proceeds of the collection which he had made. He wished to go by sea, as he had done some three years before, sailing from Cenchreae direct to Syria. The Jews of Corinth, however, were as hostile as ever, and so they hatched a plot to murder him before his embarkation. St. Paul, however, having learned their designs, suddenly changed his route, and took his journey by land through Macedonia, visiting once more his former converts and tarrying to keep the passover at Philippi with the little company of Christian Jews who there resided. This circumstance throws light upon verses 4 and 5 of this twentieth chapter, which run thus: "There accompanied him as far as Asia Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas." St. Paul came to Philippi, found St. Luke there, celebrated the passover, and then sailed away with St. Luke to join the company who had gone before. And they had gone before for a very good reason. They were ‘all, except Timothy, Gentile Christians, persons therefore who, unlike St. Paul, had nothing to do with the national rites and customs of born Jews, and who might be much more profitably exercised in working among the Gentile converts at Troas, free from any danger of either giving or taking offence in connection with the passover, a lively instance of which danger Trophimus, one of their number, subsequently afforded in Jerusalem, when his presence alone in St. Paul’s company caused the spread of a rumour which raised the riot so fatal to St. Paul’s liberty: "For they had seen with him in the city. Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple." [Acts 21:29] This incident, together with St. Paul’s conduct at Jerusalem, as told in the twenty-sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter, illustrates vividly St. Paul’s view of the Jewish law and Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were for Jews national ceremonies. They had a meaning for them. They commemorated certain national deliverances, and as such might be lawfully used. St. Paul himself could eat the passover and cherish the feelings of a Jew, heartily thankful to God for the deliverance from Egypt wrought out through Moses centuries ago for his ancestors, and his mind could then go on and rejoice over a greater deliverance still wrought out at this same paschal season by a greater than Moses. St. Paul openly proclaimed the, lawfulness of the Jewish rites for Jews, but opposed their imposition upon the Gentiles. He regarded them as tolerabiles ineptiae, and therefore observed them to please his weaker brethren; but sent his Gentile converts on before, lest perhaps the sight of his own example might weaken their faith and lead them to a compliance with that Judaising party who were ever ready to avail themselves of any opportunity to weaken St. Paul’s teaching and authority. St. Paul always strove to unite wisdom and prudence with faithfulness to principle lest by any means his labour should be in vain.

St. Luke now joined St. Paul at Philippi, and henceforth gives his own account of what happened on this eventful journey. From Philippi they crossed to Troas. It was the spring-time, and the weather was more boisterous than later in the year, and so the voyage took five days to accomplish, while two days had sufficed on a previous occasion. They came to Troas, and there remained for a week, owing doubtless to the exigencies of the ship and its cargo. On the first day of the week St. Paul assembled the Church for worship. The meeting was held on what we should call Saturday evening; but we must remember that the Jewish first day began from sundown on Saturday or the Sabbath. This is the first notice in the Acts of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the time of special Christian worship. We have, however, earlier notices of the-first day in connection with Christian observances. The apostles, for instance, met together on the first day, as we are told in John 20:19, and again eight days after, as the twenty-sixth verse of the same chapter tells. St. Paul’s first Epistle to Corinth was written twelve months earlier than this visit to Troas, and it expressly mentions [1 Corinthians 16:2] the first day of the week as the time ordered by St. Paul for the setting apart of the Galatian contribution to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem; and so here again at Troas we see that the Asiastic Christians observed the same solemn time for worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. Such glimpses-chance notices, we might call them, were there not a higher Providence watching over the unconscious writer-show us how little we can conclude from mere silence about the ritual, worship, and government of the Apostolic Church, and illustrate the vast importance of studying carefully the extant records of the Christian Church in the second century if we wish to gain fresh light upon the history and customs of the apostolic age. If three or four brief texts were blotted out of the New Testament, it would be quite possible to argue from Silence merely that the apostles and their immediate followers did not observe the Lord’s Day in any way whatsoever, and that the custom of stated worship and solemn eucharistic celebrations on that day were a corruption introduced in post-apostolic times. The best interpreters of the New Testament are, as John Wesley long ago well pointed out in his preface to his celebrated but now almost unknown Christian Library, the apostolic fathers and the writers of the age next following the apostles. We may take it for a certain rule of interpretation that, whenever we find a widely established practice or custom mentioned in the writings of a Christian author of the second century, it originated in apostolic times. It was only natural that this should have been the case. We are all inclined to venerate the past, and to cry it up as the golden age. Now this tendency must have been intensified tenfold in the case of the Christians of the second century. The first century was the time of our Lord and the age of the apostles. Sacred memories clustered thick round it, and every ceremony and rite which came from that time must have been profoundly reverenced, while every new ceremony or custom must have been rudely challenged, and its author keenly scrutinised as one who presumptuously thought he could improve upon the wisdom of men respired by the Holy Ghost and miraculously gifted by God. It is for this reason we regard the second-century doctors and apologists as the best commentary upon the sacred writers, because in them we see the Church of the apostolic age living, acting, displaying itself amid the circumstances and scenes of actual life.

Just let us take as an illustration the case of this observance of the first day of the week. The Acts of the Apostles tells us but very little about it, simply because there is but little occasion to mention what must have seemed to St. Luke one of the commonest and best-known facts. But Justin Martyr some eighty years later was describing Christianity for the Roman Emperor. He was defending it against the outrageous and immoral charges brought against it, and depicting the purity, the innocency, and simplicity of its sacred rites. Among other subjects dealt with, he touches upon the time when Christians offered up formal and stated worship. It was absolutely necessary therefore for him to treat of the subject of the Lord’s Day. In the sixty-seventh chapter of Justin’s First "Apology," we find him describing the Christian weekly festival in words which throw back an interesting light upon the language of St. Luke touching the Lord’s Day which St. Paul passed at Troas. Justin writes thus on this topic: "Upon the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together unto one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And those who are well to do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead." This passage gives us a full account of Christian customs in the first half of the second century, when thousands must have been still alive who remembered the times of the apostles, enabling us to realise what must have been the character of the assembly and of the worship in which St. Paul played a leading part at Troas.

There was, however, a difference between the celebration at Troas and the celebrations of which Justin Martyr speaks, though we learn not of this difference from Justin himself, but from Pliny’s letter to Trajan, concerning which we have often spoken. St. Paul met the Christians of Troas in the evening, and celebrated the Holy Communion with them about midnight. It was the first day of the week according to Jewish computation, though it was what we should call Saturday evening. The ship in which the apostolic company was travelling was about to sail on the morrow, and so St. Paul gladly joined the local church in its weekly breaking of bread. It was exactly the same here at Troas as reported by St. Luke, as it was at Corinth, where the evening celebrations were turned into occasions of gluttony and ostentation, as St. Paul tells us in the eleventh of First Corinthians. The Christians evidently met at this time in the evening to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It has been often thought that St. Paul, having referred just twelve months before in the First Corinthian Epistle to the gross abuses connected with the evening celebrations at Corinth, and having promised to set the abuses of Corinth in order when he visited that church, did actually change the time of the celebration of Holy Communion from the evening to the morning, when he spent the three months there of which this chapter speaks. Perhaps he did make the change, but we have no information on the point; and if he did make the change for Corinth, it is evident that he did not intend to impose it as a rule upon the whole Christian Church, when a few weeks after leaving Corinth he celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Troas in the evening. By the second century, however, the change had been made. Justin Martyr indeed does not give a hint as to the time when Holy Communion was administered in the passages to which we have referred. He tells us that none but baptised persons were-admitted to partake of it, but gives us no minor details. Pliny, however, writing of the state of affairs in Bithynia, -and it bordered upon the province where Troas was situated, -tells us from the confession extracted out of apostate Christians that "the whole of their fault lay in this, that they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a sacrament (or oath) not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft or robbery or adultery." After this early service they then separated, and assembled again in the evening to partake of a common meal. The Agape or Love-Feast was united with the Holy Communion in St. Paul’s day. Experience, however, showed that Such a union must lead to grave abuses, and so in that final consolidation which the Church received during the last quarter of the first century, when the Lord’s Second Coming was seen to be not so immediate as some at first expected, the two institutions were divided; the Holy Communion being appointed as the early morning service of the Lord’s Day, while the Agape was left in its original position as an evening meal. And so have matters continued ever since. The Agape indeed has almost died out. A trace of it perhaps remains in the blessed bread distributed in Roman Catholic Churches on the Continent; while again the love feasts instituted by John Wesley and continued among his followers were an avowed imitation of this primitive institution. The Agape continued indeed in vigorous existence for centuries, but it was almost always found associated with grave abuses. It might have been innocent and useful so long as Christian love continued to burn with the fervour of apostolic days, though even then, as Corinth showed, there were lurking dangers in it; but when we reach the fourth and fifth centuries we find council after council denouncing the evils of the Agape, and restricting its celebration with such effect that during the Middle Ages it ceased to exist as a distinctive Christian ordinance. The change of the Holy Communion to the earlier portion of the day took almost Universal effect, and that from the earliest times. Tertullian ("De Corona," 3.) testifies that in his time the Eucharist was received before daybreak, though Christ had instituted it at a mealtime. Cyprian witnesses to the same usage in his sixty-third Epistle, where he speaks of Christ as instituting the Sacrament in the evening, that "the very hour of the sacrifice might intimate the evening of the world," but then describes himself as "celebrating the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." St. Augustine, as quoted above, writing about 400, speaks of fasting communion as the general rule; so general, indeed, that he regards it as having come down from apostolic appointment. At the same time St. Augustine recognises the time of its original institution, and mentions the custom of the African Church which once a year had an evening communion on Thursday before Easter in remembrance of the Last Supper and of our Lord’s action in connection with it. My own feeling on the matter is, that early fasting communion, when there are health and strength, is far the most edifying. There is an element of self-denial about it, and the more real self-denial there is about our worship the more blessed will that worship be. A worship that costs nothing in mind, body, or estate is but a very poor thing to offer unto the Lord of the universe. But there is no ground either in Holy Scripture or the history of the primitive Church justifying an attempt to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which they cannot bear and to teach that fasting communion is binding upon all Christians. St. Augustine speaks most strongly in a passage we have already referred to (Epist. 118., "Ad Januar.") about the benefit of fasting communion; but he admits the lawfulness of non-fasting participation, as does also that great Greek divine St. Chrysostom, who quotes the examples of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself in justification of such a course.

The celebration of the Eucharist was not the only subject which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas. He preached unto the people as well; and following his example we find from Justin Martyr’s narrative that preaching was an essential part of the communion office in the days immediately following the apostles’ age; and then, descending to lower times still, we know that preaching is an equally essential portion of the eucharistic service in the Western Church, the only formal provision for a sermon according to the English liturgy being the rubric in the service for the Holy Communion, which lays down that after the Nicene Creed, "Then shall follow the sermon or one of the Homilies already set forth, or hereafter to be set forth, by authority." St. Paul’s discourse was no mere mechanical homily, however. He was not what man regarded as a powerful, but he was a ready speaker, and one who carried his hearers away by the rapt, intense earnestness of his manner. His whole soul was full of his subject. He was convinced that this was his last visit to the churches of Asia. He foresaw, too, a thousand dangers to which they would be exposed after his departure, and he therefore prolonged his sermon far into the night, so far indeed that human nature asserted its claims upon a young man named Eutychus, who sat in a window of a room Where they were assembled. Human nature indeed was never for a moment absent from these primitive Church assemblies. If it was absent in one shape, it was present in another, just as really as in our modern congregations, and so Eutychus fell fast asleep under the heart-searching exhortations of an inspired apostle, even as men fall asleep. under less powerful sermons of smaller men; and as the natural result, sitting in a window left open for the sake of ventilation, he fell down into the courtyard, and was taken up apparently lifeless. St. Paul was not put out, however. He took interruptions in his work as the Master took them. He was not upset by them, but he seized them, utilised them, and then, having extracted the sweetness and blessedness which they brought with them, he returned from them back to his interrupted work. St. Paul descended to Eutychus, found him in a lifeless state, and then restored him. Men have disputed whether the Apostle worked a miracle on this occasion, or merely perceived that the young man was in a temporary faint. I do not see that it makes any matter which opinion we form. St. Paul’s supernatural and miraculous powers stand on quite an independent ground, no matter what way we decide this particular case. It seems to me indeed from the language of St. Paul-"Make ye no ado; for his life is in him"-that the young man had merely fainted, and that St. Paul recognised this fact as soon as he touched him. But if any one has strong opinions on the opposite side I should be sorry to spend time disputing a question which has absolutely no evidential bearing. The great point is, that Eutychus was restored, that St. Paul’s long sermon was attended by no fatal consequences, and that the Apostle has left us a striking example showing how that, with pastors and people alike, intense enthusiasm, high-strung interest in the affairs of the spiritual world, can enable human nature to rise superior to all human wants, and prove itself master even of the conquering powers of sleep: "And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a tong while, even till break of day, so he departed."

We know nothing of what the particular topics were which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas, but we may guess them from the subject-matter of the address to the elders of Ephesus, which takes up the latter half of this twentieth chapter. Troas and Ephesus, in fact, were so near and so similarly circumstanced that the dangers and trials of both must have been much alike. He next passed from Troas to Miletus. This is a considerable journey along the western shore of Asia Minor. St. Paul was eagerly striving to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, or by Whitsuntide, as we should say. He had left Philippi after Easter, and now there had elapsed more than a fortnight of the seven weeks which remained available for the journey to Jerusalem. How often St. Paul must have chafed against the manifold delays of the trading vessel in which he sailed; how frequently he must have counted the days to see if sufficient time remained to execute his purpose! St. Paul, however, was a rigid economist of time. He saved every fragment of it as carefully as possible. It was thus with him at Troas. The ship in which he was travelling left Troas early in the morning. It had to round a promontory in its way to the port of Assos, which could be reached direct by St. Paul in half the time. The Apostle therefore took the shorter route, while St. Luke and his companions embarked on board the vessel. St. Paul evidently chose the land route because it gave him a time of solitary communion with God and with himself. He felt, in fact, that the perpetual strain upon his spiritual nature demanded special spiritual support and refreshment, which could only be obtained in the case of one who led such a busy life by seizing upon every such occasion as then offered for meditation and prayer. St. Paul left Troas some time on Sunday morning. He joined the ship at Assos, and after three days’ coasting voyage landed at Miletus on Wednesday, whence he despatched a messenger summoning the’ elders of the Church of Ephesus to meet him. The ship was evidently to make a delay of several days at Miletus. We conclude this from the following reason. Miletus is a town separated by a distance of thirty miles from Ephesus. A space therefore of at least two days would be required in order to secure the presence of the Ephesian elders. If a messenger-St. Luke, for instance-started immediately on St. Paul’s arrival at Miletus, no matter how quickly he travelled, he could not arrive at Miletus sooner than Thursday at midday. The work of collecting the elders and making known to them the apostolic summons would take up the afternoon at least, and then the journey to Ephesus, either by land or water, must have occupied the whole of Friday. It is very possible that the sermon recorded in this twentieth of Acts was delivered, on the Sabbath, which, as we have noted above, was as yet kept sacred by Christians as well as by Jews, or else upon the Lord’s Day, when, as upon that day week at Troas, the elders of Ephesus had assembled with the Christians of Miletus in order to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.

We have already pointed out that we know not the subject of St. Paul’s sermon at Troas, but we do know the topics upon which he enlarged at Miletus, and we may conclude that, considering the circumstances of the time, they must have been much the same as those upon which he dwelt at Troas. Some critics have found fault with St. Paul’s sermon as being quite too much taken up with himself and his own vindication. But they forget the peculiar position in which St. Paul was placed, and the manner in which the truth of the gospel was then associated in the closest manner with St. Paul’s own personal character and teaching. The Apostle was just then assailed all over the Christian world wherever he had laboured, and even sometimes where he was only known by name, with the most frightful charges; ambition, pride, covetousness, deceit, lying, all these things and much more were imputed to him by his opponents, who wished to seduce the Gentiles from that simplicity and liberty in Christ into which he had led them. Corinth had been desolated by such teachers; Galatia had succumbed to them; Asia was in great peril. St. Paul therefore, foreseeing future dangers, warned the shepherds of the flock at Ephesus against the machinations of his enemies, who always began their preliminary operations by making attacks upon St. Paul’s character. This sufficiently explains the apologetic tone of St. Paul’s address, of which we have doubtless merely a brief and condensed abstract indicating the subjects of a prolonged conversation with the elders of Ephesus, Miletus, and such neighbouring churches as could be gathered together. We conclude that St. Paul’s conference on this occasion must have been a long one for this reason. If St. Paul could find matter sufficient to engage his attention for a whole night, from sundown till sunrise, in a place like Troas, where he had laboured but a very short time, how much more must he have found to say to the presbyters of the numerous congregations which must have been flourishing at Ephesus, where he had laboured for years with such success as to make Christianity a prominent feature in the social and religious life of that idolatrous city!

Let us now notice some of the topics of this address. It may be divided into four portions. The first part is retrospective, and autobiographical; the second is prospective, and sets forth his conception of his future course; the third is hortatory, expounding the dangers threatening the Ephesian Church; and the fourth is valedictory.

I We have the biographical portion. He begins his discourse by recalling to the minds of his hearers his own manner of life, -"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 by the plots of the Jews"; words which show us that from the earliest portion of his ministry at Ephesus, and as soon as they realised the meaning of his message, the Jews had become as hostile to the Apostle at Ephesus as they had repeatedly shown themselves at Corinth, again and again making attempts upon his life. The foundations indeed of the Ephesian Church were laid in the synagogue during the first three months of his work, as we are expressly told in Acts 19:8; but the Ephesian Church must have been predominantly Gentile in its composition, or else the language of Demetrius must have been exaggerated and the riot raised by him meaningless. How could Demetrius have said, "Ye see that at Ephesus this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods which are made with hands," unless the vast majority of his converts were drawn from the ranks of those pagans who worshipped Diana? These words also show us that during his extended ministry at Ephesus he was left at peace by the heathen. St. Paul here makes no mention of trials experienced from pagan plots. He speaks of the Jews alone as making assaults upon his work or his person, incidentally confirming the statement of Acts 19:23, that it was only when he was purposing to retire from Ephesus, and during the celebration of the Artemisian games which marked his last days there, that the opposition of the pagans developed itself in a violent shape.

St. Paul begins his address by fixing upon Jewish opposition outside the Church as his great trial at Ephesus, just as the same kind of opposition inside the Church had been his great trial at Corinth, and was yet destined to be a source of trial to him in the Ephesian Church itself, as we can see from the Pastoral Epistles. He then proceeds to speak of the doctrines he had taught and how he had taught them; reminding them "how that I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul sets forth his manner of teaching. He taught publicly, and public teaching was most effective in his case, because he came armed with a double power, the powers of spiritual and of intellectual preparation. St. Paul was not a man who thought that prayer and spiritual life could dispense with thought and mental culture. Or again, he would be the last to tolerate the idea that diligent visitation from house to house would make up for the neglect of that public teaching which he so constantly and so profitably practised. Public preaching and teaching, pastoral visitation and work, are two distinct branches of labour, which at various periods of the Church’s history have been regarded in very different lights. St. Paul evidently viewed them as equally important; the tendency in the present age is, however, to decry and neglect preaching and to exalt pastoral work-including under that head Church services-out of its due position. This is, indeed, a great and lamentable mistake. The "teaching publicly" to which St. Paul refers is the only opportunity which the majority of men possess of hearing the authorised ministers of religion, and if the latter neglect the office of public preaching, and think the fag end of a week devoted to external and secular labours and devoid of any mental study and preparation stirring the soul and refreshing the spirit, to be quite sufficient for pulpit preparation, they cannot be surprised if men come to despise the religion that is presented in such a miserable light and by such inefficient ambassadors.

St. Paul insists in this passage on the publicity and boldness of his teaching. There was no secrecy about him, no hypocrisy; he did not come pretending one view or one line of doctrine, and then, having stolen in secretly, teaching a distinct system. In this passage, which may seem laudatory of his own methods, St. Paul is, in fact, warning against the underhand and hypocritical methods adopted by the Judaising party, whether at Antioch, Galatia, or Corinth. In this division of his sermon St. Paul then sets forth the doctrines which were the sum and substance of the teaching which he had given both publicly and from house to house. They were repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and that not only in the case of the Jews, but also of the Greeks. Now here we shall miss the implied reference of St. Paul unless we emphasise the words "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable." His Judaising opponents thought there were many other things profitable for men besides these two points round which St. Paul’s teaching turned. They regarded circumcision and Jewish festivals, washings and sacrifices, as very necessary and very profitable for the Gentiles; while, as far as the Jews were concerned, they thought that the doctrines on which St. Paul insisted might possibly be profitable, but were not at all necessary. St. Paul impresses by his words the great characteristic differences between the Ebionite view of Christ and of Christianity and that catholic view which has regenerated society and become a source of life and light to the human race.

II. We have, then, the prospective portion of his discourse. St. Paul announces his journey to Jerusalem, and professes his ignorance of his fate there. He was warned merely by the testimony of the Holy Spirit that bonds and afflictions were his portion in every city. He was prepared for them, however, and for death itself, so that he might accomplish the ministry with which the Lord Jesus Christ had put him in trust. He concluded this part of his address by expressing his belief that he would never see them again. His work among them was done, and he called them to witness that he was pure from the blood of all men, seeing that he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God. This passage has given rise to much debate, because of St. Paul’s statement that he knew that he should never see them again, while the Epistles to Timothy and that to Titus prove that after St. Paul’s first imprisonment, with the notice of which this book of the Acts ends, he laboured for several years in the neighbourhood of Asia Minor, and paid lengthened visits to Ephesus.

We cannot now bestow space in proving this point, which will be found fully discussed in the various Lives of St. Paul which we have so often quoted: as, for instance, in Lewin, vol. 2; Pg 94, and in Conybeare and Howson, vol. 2. P. 547. We shall now merely indicate the line of proof for this. In the Epistle to Philemon 1:22, written during his first Roman imprisonment, and therefore years subsequent to this address, he indicates his expectation of a speedy deliverance from his bonds, and his determination to travel eastward to Colossae, where Philemon lived. {cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24} He then visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy, who had been his companion in the latter portion of his Roman imprisonment, {cf. Philemon 1:1 and 1 Timothy 1:3} expecting soon to return to him in the same city; [1 Timothy 3:14] while again in 2 Timothy 1:18 he speaks of Onesiphorus having ministered to himself in Ephesus, and then in the same Epistle, [Ephesians 4:26] written during his second Roman imprisonment, he speaks of having just left Trophimus at Miletus sick. This brief outline, which can be followed up in the volumes to which we have referred, and especially in Appendix II in Conybeare and Howson on the date of the Pastoral Epistles, must suffice to prove that St. Paul was expressing a mere human expectation when he told the Ephesian elders that he should see their faces no more. St. Luke, in fact, thus shows us that St. Paul was not omniscient in his knowledge, and that the inspiration which he possessed did not remove him, as some persons think, out of the category of ordinary men or free him from their infirmities. The Apostle was, in fact, supernaturally inspired upon occasions. The Holy Ghost now and again illuminated the darkness of the future when such illumination was necessary for the Church’s guidance; but on other occasions St; Paul and his brother apostles were left to the guidance of their own understandings and to the conclusions and expectations of common sense, else why did not St. Peter and St. John read the character of Ananias and Sapphira or of Simon Magus before their sins were committed? why did St. Peter know nothing of his deliverance from Herod’s prison-house before the angel appeared, when his undissembled surprise is sufficient evidence that he had no expectation of any such rescue? These instances, which might be multiplied abundantly out of St. Paul’s career and writings, show us that St. Paul’s confident statement in this passage was a mere human anticipation which was disappointed by the course of events. The supernatural knowledge of the apostles ran on precisely the same lines as their supernatural power. God bestowed them both for use according as He saw fit and beneficial, but not for common ordinary everyday purposes, else why did St. Paul leave Trophimus at Miletus sick, or endure the tortures of his own ophthalmia, or exhort Timothy to take a little wine on account of his bodily weakness, if he could have healed them all by his miraculous power? Before we leave this point we may notice that here we have an incidental proof of the early date of the composition of the Acts. St. Luke, as we have often maintained, wrote this book about the close of St. Paul’s first imprisonment. Assuredly if he had written it at a later period, and above all, if he wrote it twenty years later, he would have either modified the words of his synopsis of St. Paul’s speech, or else given us a hint that subsequent events had shown that the Apostle was mistaken in his expectations, a thing which he could easily have done, because he cherished none of these extreme notions about St. Paul’s office and dignity which have led some to assume that it was impossible for him ever to make a mistake about the smallest matters.

III. This discourse, again, is hortatory, and its exhortations contain very important doctrinal statements. St. Paul begins this third division with an exhortation like that which our Lord gave to His Apostles under the same circumstances, "Take heed unto yourselves." The Apostle never forgot that an effective ministry of souls must be based on deep personal knowledge of the things of God. He knew, too, from his own experience that it is very easy to be so completely taken up with the care of other men’s souls and the external work of the Church, as to forget that inner life which can only be kept alive by close communion with God. Then, having based his exhortations on their own spiritual life, he exhorts the elders to diligence in the pastoral office: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the Church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." St. Paul in these words shows us his estimate of the ministerial office. The elders of Ephesus had been all ordained by St. Paul himself with the imposition of hands, a rite that has ever been esteemed essential to ordination. It was derived from the Jewish Church, and was perpetuated into the Christian Church by that same spirit of conservatism, that law of continuity which in every department of life enacts that everything shall continue as it was unless there be some circumstance to cause an alteration. Now there was no cause for alteration in this case; nay, rather, there was every reason to bring about a continuance of this custom, because imposition of hands indicates for the people the persons ordained, and assures the ordained themselves that they have been individually chosen and set apart. But St.. Paul by these words teaches us a higher and nobler view of the ministry. He teaches us that he was himself but the instrument of a higher power, and that the imposition of hands was the sign and symbol to the ordained that the Holy Ghost had chosen them and appointed them to feed the flock of God. St. Paul here shows that in ordination, as in the sacraments, we should by faith look away beyond and behind the human instrument, and view the actions of the Church of Christ as the very operations and manifestations in the world of time and sense of the Holy Ghost Himself, the Lord and Giver of life. He teaches the Ephesian elders, in fact, exactly what he taught the Corinthian Church some few months earlier, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves"; [2 Corinthians 4:7] the treasure and the power were everything, the only things, in fact, worth naming, the earthen vessels which contained them for a little time were nothing at all. How awful, solemn, heart-searching a view of the ministerial office this was! How sustaining a view when its holders are called upon to discharge functions for which they feel themselves all inadequate in their natural strength! Is it any wonder that the Church, taking the same view as St. Paul did, has ever held and taught that the ministerial office thus conferred by supernatural power is no mere human function to be taken up or laid down at man’s pleasure, but is a life-long office to be discharged at the holder’s peril, -a savour of life unto life for the worthy recipient, a savour of death unto death for the unworthy and the careless.

In connection with this statement made by St. Paul concerning the source of the ministry we find a title given to the Ephesian presbyters round which much controversy has centred. St. Paul says, "Take heed unto the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you Bishops." I do not, however, propose to spend much time over this topic, as all parties are now agreed that in the New Testament the term presbyter and bishop are interchangeable and applied to the same persons. The question to be decided is not about a name, but an office, whether, in fact, any persons succeeded in apostolic times to the office of rule and government exercised by St. Paul and the rest of the apostles, as Well as by Timothy, Titus, and the other delegates of the Apostle, and whether the term bishop, as used in the second century, was applied to such successors of the apostles. This, however, is not a question which comes directly within the purview of an expositor of the Acts of the Apostles, as the appointment of Timothy and Titus to manage the affairs of the Church in Ephesus and in Crete lies beyond the period covered by the text of the Acts, and properly belongs to the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. St. Paul’s words in this connection have, however, an important bearing on fundamental doctrinal questions connected with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks of the presbyters as called "to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." These words are very strong, so strong indeed that various readings have been put forward to mitigate their force. Some have read "Lord" instead of "God," others have substituted Christ for it; but the Revised Version, following the text of Westcott and Hort, have accepted the strongest form of the verse on purely critical ground, and translates it as "the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." This passage, then, is decisive as to the Christological views of St. Luke and the Pauline circle generally. They believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that they hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God, an expression which some fifty years afterwards we find in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, where St. Ignatius speaks of them as "kindled into living fire by the blood of God," and a hundred years later still, in Tertullian, "Ad Uxor.," 2:3. This passage has been used in scientific theology as the basis of a principle or theory called the "Communicatio Idiomatum," a theory which finds an illustration in two other notable passages of Scripture, John 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the former passage our Lord says of Himself, "No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven," where the Son of man is spoken of as in heaven as well as upon earth at the same time, though the Son of man, according to His humanity, could only be in one place at a time. In the second passage St. Paul says, "Which none of the rulers of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory," where crucifixion is attributed to the Lord of Glory, a title derived from His Divine nature. Now the term "Communicatio Idiomature," or "transference of peculiar properties," is given to this usage because in all these texts the properties of the nature pertaining either to God or to man are spoken of as if they belonged to the other; or, to put it far better in the stately language of Hooker, 5, 53., where he speaks of "those cross and circulatory speeches wherein there are attributed to God such things as belong to manhood, and to man such as properly concern the deity of Jesus Christ, the cause whereof is the association of natures in one subject. A kind of mutual commutation there is, whereby those concrete names, God and man, when we speak of Christ, do take interchangeably one another’s room, so that for truth of speech it skilleth not whether we say that the Son of God hath created the world and the Son of man by His death hath saved it, or else that the Son of man did create and the Son of God did die to save the world." This is a subject of profound speculative and doctrinal interest, not only in connection with the apostolic view of our Lord’s Person, but also in reference to the whole round of methodised and scientific theology. We cannot, however, afford further space for this subject. We must be content to have pointed it out as an interesting topic of inquiry, and, merely referring the reader to Hooker and to Liddon’s Bampton Lectures (Lect. 5.) for more information, must hurry on to a conclusion. St. Paul terminates this part of his discourse with expressing his belief in the rapid development of false doctrines and false guides as soon as his repressive influence shall have been removed; a belief which the devout student of the New Testament will find to have been realised when 1 Timothy 1:20, in 2 Timothy 1:15, and 2 Timothy 2:17-18 he finds the Apostle warning the youthful Bishop of Ephesus against Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had turned all Asia away from St. Paul, and against Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who had imbibed the Gnostic error concerning matter, which had already led the Corinthians to deny the future character of the Resurrection. St. Paul then terminates his discourse with a solemn commendation of the Ephesian elders to that Divine grace which is as necessary for an apostle as for the humblest Christian. He exhorts them to self-sacrifice and self-denial, reminding them of his own example, having supported himself and his companions by his labour as a tentmaker at Ephesus, and above all of the words of the Lord Jesus, which they apparently knew from some source which has not come down to us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When the Apostle had thus terminated his address, which doubtless was a very lengthened one, he knelt down, probably on the shore, as we shall find him kneeling in the next chapter [Acts 21:5-6] on the shore at Tyre. He then commended them in solemn prayer to God, and they all parted in deep sorrow on account of the final separation which St. Paul’s words indicated as imminent; for though the primitive Christians believed in the reality of the next life with an intensity of faith of which we have no conception, and longed for its peace and rest, yet they gave free scope to those natural affections which bind men one to another according to the flesh and were sanctified by the Master Himself when He wept by the grave of Lazarus. Christianity is not a religion of stoical apathy, but of sanctified human affections.


Verse 28

Chapter 16

ST. PAUL AND THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.

Acts 20:1; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:17-19; Acts 20:28

THE period of St. Paul’s career at which we have now arrived was full of life, vigour, activity. He was in the very height of his powers, was surrounded with responsibilities, was pressed with cares and anxieties; and yet the character of the sacred narrative is very peculiar. From the passover of the year 57, soon after which the Apostle had to leave Ephesus, till the passover of the next year, we learn but very little of St. Paul’s work from the narrative of St. Luke. The five verses with which the twentieth chapter begins tell us all that St. Luke apparently knew about the Apostle’s actions during that time. He gives us the story of a mere outsider, who knew next to nothing of the work St. Paul was doing. The Apostle left Ephesus and went into Macedonia, whence he departed into Greece. Three months were occupied in teaching at Corinth, and then, intending to sail from Cenchreae to Ephesus, he suddenly changed his mind upon the discovery of a Jewish plot, altered his route, disappointed his foes, and paid a second visit to Macedonia. In this narrative, which is all St. Luke gives, we have the account, brief and concise, of one who was acquainted merely with the bare outlines of the Apostle’s work, and knew nothing of his inner life and trials. St. Luke, in fact, was so much taken up with his own duties at Philippi, where he had been labouring for the previous five years, that he had no time to think of what was going on elsewhere. At any rate his friend and pupil Theophilus had simply asked him for a narrative so far as he knew it of the progress of the gospel. He had no idea that he was writing anything more than a story for the private use of Theophilus, and he therefore put down what he knew and had experienced, without troubling himself concerning other matters. I have read criticisms of the Acts-proceeding principally, I must confess, from German sources-which seem to proceed on the supposition that St. Luke was consciously writing an ecclesiastical history of the whole early Church which he knew and felt was destined to serve for ages. But this was evidently not the case. St. Luke was consciously writing a story merely for a friend’s study, and dreamt not of the wider fame and use destined for his. book. This accounts in a simple and natural way, not only for what St. Luke inserts, but also for what he leaves out, and he manifestly left out a great deal. We may take this passage at which we have now arrived as an illustration of his methods of writing sacred history. This period of ten months, from the time St. Paul left Ephesus till he returned to Philippi at the following Easter season, was filled with most important labours which have borne fruit unto all ages of the Church, yet St. Luke dismisses them in a few words. Just let us realise what happened in these eventful months. St. Paul wrote First Corinthians in April A.D. 57. In May he passed to Troas, where, as we learn from Second Corinthians, he laboured for a short time with much success. He then passed into Macedonia, urged on by his restless anxiety concerning the Corinthian Church. In Macedonia. he laboured during the following five or six months. How intense and absorbing must have been his work during that time! It was then that he preached the gospel with signs and wonders round about even unto Illyricum, as he notes in Romans 16:19, an epistle written this very year from Corinth. The last time that he had been in Macedonia he was a hunted fugitive fleeing from place to place. Now he seems to have lived in comparative peace, so far at least as the Jewish synagogues were concerned. He penetrated, therefore, into the mountainous districts west of Beroea, bearing the gospel tidings into cities and villages which had as yet heard nothing of them. But preaching was not his only work in Macedonia. He had written his first Epistle to Corinth from Ephesus a few months before. In Macedonia he received from Titus, his messenger, an account of the manner in which that epistle had been received, and so from Macedonia he despatched his second Corinthian Epistle, which must be carefully studied if we desire to get an adequate idea of the labours and anxieties amid which the Apostle was then immersed. {see 2 Corinthians 2:13, and 2 Corinthians 7:5-6} And then he passed into Greece, where he spent three months at Corinth, settling the affairs of that very celebrated but very disorderly Christian community. The three months spent there must have been a period of overwhelming business. Let us recount the subjects which must have taken up every moment of St. Paul’s time. First there were the affairs ‘of the Corinthian Church itself. He had to reprove, comfort, direct, set in order. The whole moral, spiritual, social, intellectual conceptions of Corinth had gone wrong. There was not a question, from the most elementary topic of morals and the social considerations connected with female dress and activities, to the most solemn points of doctrine and worship, the Resurrection and the Holy Communion, concerning which difficulties, disorders, and dissensions had not been raised. All these had to be investigated and decided by the Apostle. Then, again, the Jewish controversy, anti the oppositions to himself personally which the Judaising party had excited, demanded his careful attention. This controversy was a troublesome one in Corinth just then, but it was a still more troublesome one in Galatia, and was fast raising its head in Rome. The affairs of both these great and important churches, the one in the East, the other in the West, were pressing upon St. Paul at this very time. While he was immersed in all the local troubles of Corinth, he had to find time at Corinth to write the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans. How hard it must have been for the Apostle to concentrate his attention on the affairs of Corinth when his heart and brain were torn with anxieties about the schisms, divisions, and false doctrines which were flourishing among his Galatian converts, or threatening to invade the Church at Rome, where as yet he had not been able to set forth his own conception of gospel truth, and thus fortify the disciples against the attacks of those subtle foes of Christ who were doing their best to turn the Catholic Church into a mere narrow Jewish sect, devoid of all spiritual power and life.

But this was not all, or nearly all. St. Paul was at the same time engaged in organising a great collection throughout all the churches where he had ministered on behalf of the poor Christians at Jerusalem, and he was compelled to walk most warily and carefully in this matter. Every step he took was watched by foes ready to interpret it unfavourably; every appointment he made, every arrangement, no matter how wise or prudent, was the subject of keenest scrutiny and criticism. With all these various matters accumulating upon him it is no wonder that St. Paul should have written of himself at this very period in words which vividly describe his distractions: "Beside those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the care of all the churches." And yet St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the greatness of his soul as we read the epistles which were the outcome of this period of intense but fruitful labour. He carried a mighty load, but yet he carried it lightly. His present anxieties were numerous, but they did not shut out all thoughts upon other topics. The busiest man then was just the same as the busiest man still. He was the man who had the most time and leisure to bestow thought upon the future. The anxieties and worries of the present were numerous and exacting, but St. Paul did not allow his mind to be so swallowed up in them as to shut out all care about other questions equally important. While he was engaged in the manifold cares which present controversies brought, he was all the while meditating a mission to Rome, and contemplating a journey still farther to Spain and Gaul and the bounds of the Western ocean. And then, finally, there was the care of St. Paul’s own soul, the sustenance and development of his spirit by prayer and meditation and worship and reading, which he never neglected under any circumstances. All these things combined must have rendered this period of close upon twelve months one of the Apostle’s busiest and in-tensest times, and yet St. Luke disposes of it in a few brief verses of this twentieth chapter.

After St. Paul’s stay at Corinth, he determined to proceed to Jerusalem according to his predetermined plan, bringing with him the proceeds of the collection which he had made. He wished to go by sea, as he had done some three years before, sailing from Cenchreae direct to Syria. The Jews of Corinth, however, were as hostile as ever, and so they hatched a plot to murder him before his embarkation. St. Paul, however, having learned their designs, suddenly changed his route, and took his journey by land through Macedonia, visiting once more his former converts and tarrying to keep the passover at Philippi with the little company of Christian Jews who there resided. This circumstance throws light upon verses 4 and 5 of this twentieth chapter, which run thus: "There accompanied him as far as Asia Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas." St. Paul came to Philippi, found St. Luke there, celebrated the passover, and then sailed away with St. Luke to join the company who had gone before. And they had gone before for a very good reason. They were ‘all, except Timothy, Gentile Christians, persons therefore who, unlike St. Paul, had nothing to do with the national rites and customs of born Jews, and who might be much more profitably exercised in working among the Gentile converts at Troas, free from any danger of either giving or taking offence in connection with the passover, a lively instance of which danger Trophimus, one of their number, subsequently afforded in Jerusalem, when his presence alone in St. Paul’s company caused the spread of a rumour which raised the riot so fatal to St. Paul’s liberty: "For they had seen with him in the city. Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple." [Acts 21:29] This incident, together with St. Paul’s conduct at Jerusalem, as told in the twenty-sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter, illustrates vividly St. Paul’s view of the Jewish law and Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were for Jews national ceremonies. They had a meaning for them. They commemorated certain national deliverances, and as such might be lawfully used. St. Paul himself could eat the passover and cherish the feelings of a Jew, heartily thankful to God for the deliverance from Egypt wrought out through Moses centuries ago for his ancestors, and his mind could then go on and rejoice over a greater deliverance still wrought out at this same paschal season by a greater than Moses. St. Paul openly proclaimed the, lawfulness of the Jewish rites for Jews, but opposed their imposition upon the Gentiles. He regarded them as tolerabiles ineptiae, and therefore observed them to please his weaker brethren; but sent his Gentile converts on before, lest perhaps the sight of his own example might weaken their faith and lead them to a compliance with that Judaising party who were ever ready to avail themselves of any opportunity to weaken St. Paul’s teaching and authority. St. Paul always strove to unite wisdom and prudence with faithfulness to principle lest by any means his labour should be in vain.

St. Luke now joined St. Paul at Philippi, and henceforth gives his own account of what happened on this eventful journey. From Philippi they crossed to Troas. It was the spring-time, and the weather was more boisterous than later in the year, and so the voyage took five days to accomplish, while two days had sufficed on a previous occasion. They came to Troas, and there remained for a week, owing doubtless to the exigencies of the ship and its cargo. On the first day of the week St. Paul assembled the Church for worship. The meeting was held on what we should call Saturday evening; but we must remember that the Jewish first day began from sundown on Saturday or the Sabbath. This is the first notice in the Acts of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the time of special Christian worship. We have, however, earlier notices of the-first day in connection with Christian observances. The apostles, for instance, met together on the first day, as we are told in John 20:19, and again eight days after, as the twenty-sixth verse of the same chapter tells. St. Paul’s first Epistle to Corinth was written twelve months earlier than this visit to Troas, and it expressly mentions [1 Corinthians 16:2] the first day of the week as the time ordered by St. Paul for the setting apart of the Galatian contribution to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem; and so here again at Troas we see that the Asiastic Christians observed the same solemn time for worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. Such glimpses-chance notices, we might call them, were there not a higher Providence watching over the unconscious writer-show us how little we can conclude from mere silence about the ritual, worship, and government of the Apostolic Church, and illustrate the vast importance of studying carefully the extant records of the Christian Church in the second century if we wish to gain fresh light upon the history and customs of the apostolic age. If three or four brief texts were blotted out of the New Testament, it would be quite possible to argue from Silence merely that the apostles and their immediate followers did not observe the Lord’s Day in any way whatsoever, and that the custom of stated worship and solemn eucharistic celebrations on that day were a corruption introduced in post-apostolic times. The best interpreters of the New Testament are, as John Wesley long ago well pointed out in his preface to his celebrated but now almost unknown Christian Library, the apostolic fathers and the writers of the age next following the apostles. We may take it for a certain rule of interpretation that, whenever we find a widely established practice or custom mentioned in the writings of a Christian author of the second century, it originated in apostolic times. It was only natural that this should have been the case. We are all inclined to venerate the past, and to cry it up as the golden age. Now this tendency must have been intensified tenfold in the case of the Christians of the second century. The first century was the time of our Lord and the age of the apostles. Sacred memories clustered thick round it, and every ceremony and rite which came from that time must have been profoundly reverenced, while every new ceremony or custom must have been rudely challenged, and its author keenly scrutinised as one who presumptuously thought he could improve upon the wisdom of men respired by the Holy Ghost and miraculously gifted by God. It is for this reason we regard the second-century doctors and apologists as the best commentary upon the sacred writers, because in them we see the Church of the apostolic age living, acting, displaying itself amid the circumstances and scenes of actual life.

Just let us take as an illustration the case of this observance of the first day of the week. The Acts of the Apostles tells us but very little about it, simply because there is but little occasion to mention what must have seemed to St. Luke one of the commonest and best-known facts. But Justin Martyr some eighty years later was describing Christianity for the Roman Emperor. He was defending it against the outrageous and immoral charges brought against it, and depicting the purity, the innocency, and simplicity of its sacred rites. Among other subjects dealt with, he touches upon the time when Christians offered up formal and stated worship. It was absolutely necessary therefore for him to treat of the subject of the Lord’s Day. In the sixty-seventh chapter of Justin’s First "Apology," we find him describing the Christian weekly festival in words which throw back an interesting light upon the language of St. Luke touching the Lord’s Day which St. Paul passed at Troas. Justin writes thus on this topic: "Upon the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together unto one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And those who are well to do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead." This passage gives us a full account of Christian customs in the first half of the second century, when thousands must have been still alive who remembered the times of the apostles, enabling us to realise what must have been the character of the assembly and of the worship in which St. Paul played a leading part at Troas.

There was, however, a difference between the celebration at Troas and the celebrations of which Justin Martyr speaks, though we learn not of this difference from Justin himself, but from Pliny’s letter to Trajan, concerning which we have often spoken. St. Paul met the Christians of Troas in the evening, and celebrated the Holy Communion with them about midnight. It was the first day of the week according to Jewish computation, though it was what we should call Saturday evening. The ship in which the apostolic company was travelling was about to sail on the morrow, and so St. Paul gladly joined the local church in its weekly breaking of bread. It was exactly the same here at Troas as reported by St. Luke, as it was at Corinth, where the evening celebrations were turned into occasions of gluttony and ostentation, as St. Paul tells us in the eleventh of First Corinthians. The Christians evidently met at this time in the evening to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It has been often thought that St. Paul, having referred just twelve months before in the First Corinthian Epistle to the gross abuses connected with the evening celebrations at Corinth, and having promised to set the abuses of Corinth in order when he visited that church, did actually change the time of the celebration of Holy Communion from the evening to the morning, when he spent the three months there of which this chapter speaks. Perhaps he did make the change, but we have no information on the point; and if he did make the change for Corinth, it is evident that he did not intend to impose it as a rule upon the whole Christian Church, when a few weeks after leaving Corinth he celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Troas in the evening. By the second century, however, the change had been made. Justin Martyr indeed does not give a hint as to the time when Holy Communion was administered in the passages to which we have referred. He tells us that none but baptised persons were-admitted to partake of it, but gives us no minor details. Pliny, however, writing of the state of affairs in Bithynia, -and it bordered upon the province where Troas was situated, -tells us from the confession extracted out of apostate Christians that "the whole of their fault lay in this, that they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a sacrament (or oath) not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft or robbery or adultery." After this early service they then separated, and assembled again in the evening to partake of a common meal. The Agape or Love-Feast was united with the Holy Communion in St. Paul’s day. Experience, however, showed that Such a union must lead to grave abuses, and so in that final consolidation which the Church received during the last quarter of the first century, when the Lord’s Second Coming was seen to be not so immediate as some at first expected, the two institutions were divided; the Holy Communion being appointed as the early morning service of the Lord’s Day, while the Agape was left in its original position as an evening meal. And so have matters continued ever since. The Agape indeed has almost died out. A trace of it perhaps remains in the blessed bread distributed in Roman Catholic Churches on the Continent; while again the love feasts instituted by John Wesley and continued among his followers were an avowed imitation of this primitive institution. The Agape continued indeed in vigorous existence for centuries, but it was almost always found associated with grave abuses. It might have been innocent and useful so long as Christian love continued to burn with the fervour of apostolic days, though even then, as Corinth showed, there were lurking dangers in it; but when we reach the fourth and fifth centuries we find council after council denouncing the evils of the Agape, and restricting its celebration with such effect that during the Middle Ages it ceased to exist as a distinctive Christian ordinance. The change of the Holy Communion to the earlier portion of the day took almost Universal effect, and that from the earliest times. Tertullian ("De Corona," 3.) testifies that in his time the Eucharist was received before daybreak, though Christ had instituted it at a mealtime. Cyprian witnesses to the same usage in his sixty-third Epistle, where he speaks of Christ as instituting the Sacrament in the evening, that "the very hour of the sacrifice might intimate the evening of the world," but then describes himself as "celebrating the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." St. Augustine, as quoted above, writing about 400, speaks of fasting communion as the general rule; so general, indeed, that he regards it as having come down from apostolic appointment. At the same time St. Augustine recognises the time of its original institution, and mentions the custom of the African Church which once a year had an evening communion on Thursday before Easter in remembrance of the Last Supper and of our Lord’s action in connection with it. My own feeling on the matter is, that early fasting communion, when there are health and strength, is far the most edifying. There is an element of self-denial about it, and the more real self-denial there is about our worship the more blessed will that worship be. A worship that costs nothing in mind, body, or estate is but a very poor thing to offer unto the Lord of the universe. But there is no ground either in Holy Scripture or the history of the primitive Church justifying an attempt to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which they cannot bear and to teach that fasting communion is binding upon all Christians. St. Augustine speaks most strongly in a passage we have already referred to (Epist. 118., "Ad Januar.") about the benefit of fasting communion; but he admits the lawfulness of non-fasting participation, as does also that great Greek divine St. Chrysostom, who quotes the examples of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself in justification of such a course.

The celebration of the Eucharist was not the only subject which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas. He preached unto the people as well; and following his example we find from Justin Martyr’s narrative that preaching was an essential part of the communion office in the days immediately following the apostles’ age; and then, descending to lower times still, we know that preaching is an equally essential portion of the eucharistic service in the Western Church, the only formal provision for a sermon according to the English liturgy being the rubric in the service for the Holy Communion, which lays down that after the Nicene Creed, "Then shall follow the sermon or one of the Homilies already set forth, or hereafter to be set forth, by authority." St. Paul’s discourse was no mere mechanical homily, however. He was not what man regarded as a powerful, but he was a ready speaker, and one who carried his hearers away by the rapt, intense earnestness of his manner. His whole soul was full of his subject. He was convinced that this was his last visit to the churches of Asia. He foresaw, too, a thousand dangers to which they would be exposed after his departure, and he therefore prolonged his sermon far into the night, so far indeed that human nature asserted its claims upon a young man named Eutychus, who sat in a window of a room Where they were assembled. Human nature indeed was never for a moment absent from these primitive Church assemblies. If it was absent in one shape, it was present in another, just as really as in our modern congregations, and so Eutychus fell fast asleep under the heart-searching exhortations of an inspired apostle, even as men fall asleep. under less powerful sermons of smaller men; and as the natural result, sitting in a window left open for the sake of ventilation, he fell down into the courtyard, and was taken up apparently lifeless. St. Paul was not put out, however. He took interruptions in his work as the Master took them. He was not upset by them, but he seized them, utilised them, and then, having extracted the sweetness and blessedness which they brought with them, he returned from them back to his interrupted work. St. Paul descended to Eutychus, found him in a lifeless state, and then restored him. Men have disputed whether the Apostle worked a miracle on this occasion, or merely perceived that the young man was in a temporary faint. I do not see that it makes any matter which opinion we form. St. Paul’s supernatural and miraculous powers stand on quite an independent ground, no matter what way we decide this particular case. It seems to me indeed from the language of St. Paul-"Make ye no ado; for his life is in him"-that the young man had merely fainted, and that St. Paul recognised this fact as soon as he touched him. But if any one has strong opinions on the opposite side I should be sorry to spend time disputing a question which has absolutely no evidential bearing. The great point is, that Eutychus was restored, that St. Paul’s long sermon was attended by no fatal consequences, and that the Apostle has left us a striking example showing how that, with pastors and people alike, intense enthusiasm, high-strung interest in the affairs of the spiritual world, can enable human nature to rise superior to all human wants, and prove itself master even of the conquering powers of sleep: "And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a tong while, even till break of day, so he departed."

We know nothing of what the particular topics were which engaged St. Paul’s attention at Troas, but we may guess them from the subject-matter of the address to the elders of Ephesus, which takes up the latter half of this twentieth chapter. Troas and Ephesus, in fact, were so near and so similarly circumstanced that the dangers and trials of both must have been much alike. He next passed from Troas to Miletus. This is a considerable journey along the western shore of Asia Minor. St. Paul was eagerly striving to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, or by Whitsuntide, as we should say. He had left Philippi after Easter, and now there had elapsed more than a fortnight of the seven weeks which remained available for the journey to Jerusalem. How often St. Paul must have chafed against the manifold delays of the trading vessel in which he sailed; how frequently he must have counted the days to see if sufficient time remained to execute his purpose! St. Paul, however, was a rigid economist of time. He saved every fragment of it as carefully as possible. It was thus with him at Troas. The ship in which he was travelling left Troas early in the morning. It had to round a promontory in its way to the port of Assos, which could be reached direct by St. Paul in half the time. The Apostle therefore took the shorter route, while St. Luke and his companions embarked on board the vessel. St. Paul evidently chose the land route because it gave him a time of solitary communion with God and with himself. He felt, in fact, that the perpetual strain upon his spiritual nature demanded special spiritual support and refreshment, which could only be obtained in the case of one who led such a busy life by seizing upon every such occasion as then offered for meditation and prayer. St. Paul left Troas some time on Sunday morning. He joined the ship at Assos, and after three days’ coasting voyage landed at Miletus on Wednesday, whence he despatched a messenger summoning the’ elders of the Church of Ephesus to meet him. The ship was evidently to make a delay of several days at Miletus. We conclude this from the following reason. Miletus is a town separated by a distance of thirty miles from Ephesus. A space therefore of at least two days would be required in order to secure the presence of the Ephesian elders. If a messenger-St. Luke, for instance-started immediately on St. Paul’s arrival at Miletus, no matter how quickly he travelled, he could not arrive at Miletus sooner than Thursday at midday. The work of collecting the elders and making known to them the apostolic summons would take up the afternoon at least, and then the journey to Ephesus, either by land or water, must have occupied the whole of Friday. It is very possible that the sermon recorded in this twentieth of Acts was delivered, on the Sabbath, which, as we have noted above, was as yet kept sacred by Christians as well as by Jews, or else upon the Lord’s Day, when, as upon that day week at Troas, the elders of Ephesus had assembled with the Christians of Miletus in order to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.

We have already pointed out that we know not the subject of St. Paul’s sermon at Troas, but we do know the topics upon which he enlarged at Miletus, and we may conclude that, considering the circumstances of the time, they must have been much the same as those upon which he dwelt at Troas. Some critics have found fault with St. Paul’s sermon as being quite too much taken up with himself and his own vindication. But they forget the peculiar position in which St. Paul was placed, and the manner in which the truth of the gospel was then associated in the closest manner with St. Paul’s own personal character and teaching. The Apostle was just then assailed all over the Christian world wherever he had laboured, and even sometimes where he was only known by name, with the most frightful charges; ambition, pride, covetousness, deceit, lying, all these things and much more were imputed to him by his opponents, who wished to seduce the Gentiles from that simplicity and liberty in Christ into which he had led them. Corinth had been desolated by such teachers; Galatia had succumbed to them; Asia was in great peril. St. Paul therefore, foreseeing future dangers, warned the shepherds of the flock at Ephesus against the machinations of his enemies, who always began their preliminary operations by making attacks upon St. Paul’s character. This sufficiently explains the apologetic tone of St. Paul’s address, of which we have doubtless merely a brief and condensed abstract indicating the subjects of a prolonged conversation with the elders of Ephesus, Miletus, and such neighbouring churches as could be gathered together. We conclude that St. Paul’s conference on this occasion must have been a long one for this reason. If St. Paul could find matter sufficient to engage his attention for a whole night, from sundown till sunrise, in a place like Troas, where he had laboured but a very short time, how much more must he have found to say to the presbyters of the numerous congregations which must have been flourishing at Ephesus, where he had laboured for years with such success as to make Christianity a prominent feature in the social and religious life of that idolatrous city!

Let us now notice some of the topics of this address. It may be divided into four portions. The first part is retrospective, and autobiographical; the second is prospective, and sets forth his conception of his future course; the third is hortatory, expounding the dangers threatening the Ephesian Church; and the fourth is valedictory.

I We have the biographical portion. He begins his discourse by recalling to the minds of his hearers his own manner of life, -"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 by the plots of the Jews"; words which show us that from the earliest portion of his ministry at Ephesus, and as soon as they realised the meaning of his message, the Jews had become as hostile to the Apostle at Ephesus as they had repeatedly shown themselves at Corinth, again and again making attempts upon his life. The foundations indeed of the Ephesian Church were laid in the synagogue during the first three months of his work, as we are expressly told in Acts 19:8; but the Ephesian Church must have been predominantly Gentile in its composition, or else the language of Demetrius must have been exaggerated and the riot raised by him meaningless. How could Demetrius have said, "Ye see that at Ephesus this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods which are made with hands," unless the vast majority of his converts were drawn from the ranks of those pagans who worshipped Diana? These words also show us that during his extended ministry at Ephesus he was left at peace by the heathen. St. Paul here makes no mention of trials experienced from pagan plots. He speaks of the Jews alone as making assaults upon his work or his person, incidentally confirming the statement of Acts 19:23, that it was only when he was purposing to retire from Ephesus, and during the celebration of the Artemisian games which marked his last days there, that the opposition of the pagans developed itself in a violent shape.

St. Paul begins his address by fixing upon Jewish opposition outside the Church as his great trial at Ephesus, just as the same kind of opposition inside the Church had been his great trial at Corinth, and was yet destined to be a source of trial to him in the Ephesian Church itself, as we can see from the Pastoral Epistles. He then proceeds to speak of the doctrines he had taught and how he had taught them; reminding them "how that I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul sets forth his manner of teaching. He taught publicly, and public teaching was most effective in his case, because he came armed with a double power, the powers of spiritual and of intellectual preparation. St. Paul was not a man who thought that prayer and spiritual life could dispense with thought and mental culture. Or again, he would be the last to tolerate the idea that diligent visitation from house to house would make up for the neglect of that public teaching which he so constantly and so profitably practised. Public preaching and teaching, pastoral visitation and work, are two distinct branches of labour, which at various periods of the Church’s history have been regarded in very different lights. St. Paul evidently viewed them as equally important; the tendency in the present age is, however, to decry and neglect preaching and to exalt pastoral work-including under that head Church services-out of its due position. This is, indeed, a great and lamentable mistake. The "teaching publicly" to which St. Paul refers is the only opportunity which the majority of men possess of hearing the authorised ministers of religion, and if the latter neglect the office of public preaching, and think the fag end of a week devoted to external and secular labours and devoid of any mental study and preparation stirring the soul and refreshing the spirit, to be quite sufficient for pulpit preparation, they cannot be surprised if men come to despise the religion that is presented in such a miserable light and by such inefficient ambassadors.

St. Paul insists in this passage on the publicity and boldness of his teaching. There was no secrecy about him, no hypocrisy; he did not come pretending one view or one line of doctrine, and then, having stolen in secretly, teaching a distinct system. In this passage, which may seem laudatory of his own methods, St. Paul is, in fact, warning against the underhand and hypocritical methods adopted by the Judaising party, whether at Antioch, Galatia, or Corinth. In this division of his sermon St. Paul then sets forth the doctrines which were the sum and substance of the teaching which he had given both publicly and from house to house. They were repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and that not only in the case of the Jews, but also of the Greeks. Now here we shall miss the implied reference of St. Paul unless we emphasise the words "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable." His Judaising opponents thought there were many other things profitable for men besides these two points round which St. Paul’s teaching turned. They regarded circumcision and Jewish festivals, washings and sacrifices, as very necessary and very profitable for the Gentiles; while, as far as the Jews were concerned, they thought that the doctrines on which St. Paul insisted might possibly be profitable, but were not at all necessary. St. Paul impresses by his words the great characteristic differences between the Ebionite view of Christ and of Christianity and that catholic view which has regenerated society and become a source of life and light to the human race.

II. We have, then, the prospective portion of his discourse. St. Paul announces his journey to Jerusalem, and professes his ignorance of his fate there. He was warned merely by the testimony of the Holy Spirit that bonds and afflictions were his portion in every city. He was prepared for them, however, and for death itself, so that he might accomplish the ministry with which the Lord Jesus Christ had put him in trust. He concluded this part of his address by expressing his belief that he would never see them again. His work among them was done, and he called them to witness that he was pure from the blood of all men, seeing that he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God. This passage has given rise to much debate, because of St. Paul’s statement that he knew that he should never see them again, while the Epistles to Timothy and that to Titus prove that after St. Paul’s first imprisonment, with the notice of which this book of the Acts ends, he laboured for several years in the neighbourhood of Asia Minor, and paid lengthened visits to Ephesus.

We cannot now bestow space in proving this point, which will be found fully discussed in the various Lives of St. Paul which we have so often quoted: as, for instance, in Lewin, vol. 2; Pg 94, and in Conybeare and Howson, vol. 2. P. 547. We shall now merely indicate the line of proof for this. In the Epistle to Philemon 1:22, written during his first Roman imprisonment, and therefore years subsequent to this address, he indicates his expectation of a speedy deliverance from his bonds, and his determination to travel eastward to Colossae, where Philemon lived. {cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24} He then visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy, who had been his companion in the latter portion of his Roman imprisonment, {cf. Philemon 1:1 and 1 Timothy 1:3} expecting soon to return to him in the same city; [1 Timothy 3:14] while again in 2 Timothy 1:18 he speaks of Onesiphorus having ministered to himself in Ephesus, and then in the same Epistle, [Ephesians 4:26] written during his second Roman imprisonment, he speaks of having just left Trophimus at Miletus sick. This brief outline, which can be followed up in the volumes to which we have referred, and especially in Appendix II in Conybeare and Howson on the date of the Pastoral Epistles, must suffice to prove that St. Paul was expressing a mere human expectation when he told the Ephesian elders that he should see their faces no more. St. Luke, in fact, thus shows us that St. Paul was not omniscient in his knowledge, and that the inspiration which he possessed did not remove him, as some persons think, out of the category of ordinary men or free him from their infirmities. The Apostle was, in fact, supernaturally inspired upon occasions. The Holy Ghost now and again illuminated the darkness of the future when such illumination was necessary for the Church’s guidance; but on other occasions St; Paul and his brother apostles were left to the guidance of their own understandings and to the conclusions and expectations of common sense, else why did not St. Peter and St. John read the character of Ananias and Sapphira or of Simon Magus before their sins were committed? why did St. Peter know nothing of his deliverance from Herod’s prison-house before the angel appeared, when his undissembled surprise is sufficient evidence that he had no expectation of any such rescue? These instances, which might be multiplied abundantly out of St. Paul’s career and writings, show us that St. Paul’s confident statement in this passage was a mere human anticipation which was disappointed by the course of events. The supernatural knowledge of the apostles ran on precisely the same lines as their supernatural power. God bestowed them both for use according as He saw fit and beneficial, but not for common ordinary everyday purposes, else why did St. Paul leave Trophimus at Miletus sick, or endure the tortures of his own ophthalmia, or exhort Timothy to take a little wine on account of his bodily weakness, if he could have healed them all by his miraculous power? Before we leave this point we may notice that here we have an incidental proof of the early date of the composition of the Acts. St. Luke, as we have often maintained, wrote this book about the close of St. Paul’s first imprisonment. Assuredly if he had written it at a later period, and above all, if he wrote it twenty years later, he would have either modified the words of his synopsis of St. Paul’s speech, or else given us a hint that subsequent events had shown that the Apostle was mistaken in his expectations, a thing which he could easily have done, because he cherished none of these extreme notions about St. Paul’s office and dignity which have led some to assume that it was impossible for him ever to make a mistake about the smallest matters.

III. This discourse, again, is hortatory, and its exhortations contain very important doctrinal statements. St. Paul begins this third division with an exhortation like that which our Lord gave to His Apostles under the same circumstances, "Take heed unto yourselves." The Apostle never forgot that an effective ministry of souls must be based on deep personal knowledge of the things of God. He knew, too, from his own experience that it is very easy to be so completely taken up with the care of other men’s souls and the external work of the Church, as to forget that inner life which can only be kept alive by close communion with God. Then, having based his exhortations on their own spiritual life, he exhorts the elders to diligence in the pastoral office: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the Church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." St. Paul in these words shows us his estimate of the ministerial office. The elders of Ephesus had been all ordained by St. Paul himself with the imposition of hands, a rite that has ever been esteemed essential to ordination. It was derived from the Jewish Church, and was perpetuated into the Christian Church by that same spirit of conservatism, that law of continuity which in every department of life enacts that everything shall continue as it was unless there be some circumstance to cause an alteration. Now there was no cause for alteration in this case; nay, rather, there was every reason to bring about a continuance of this custom, because imposition of hands indicates for the people the persons ordained, and assures the ordained themselves that they have been individually chosen and set apart. But St.. Paul by these words teaches us a higher and nobler view of the ministry. He teaches us that he was himself but the instrument of a higher power, and that the imposition of hands was the sign and symbol to the ordained that the Holy Ghost had chosen them and appointed them to feed the flock of God. St. Paul here shows that in ordination, as in the sacraments, we should by faith look away beyond and behind the human instrument, and view the actions of the Church of Christ as the very operations and manifestations in the world of time and sense of the Holy Ghost Himself, the Lord and Giver of life. He teaches the Ephesian elders, in fact, exactly what he taught the Corinthian Church some few months earlier, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves"; [2 Corinthians 4:7] the treasure and the power were everything, the only things, in fact, worth naming, the earthen vessels which contained them for a little time were nothing at all. How awful, solemn, heart-searching a view of the ministerial office this was! How sustaining a view when its holders are called upon to discharge functions for which they feel themselves all inadequate in their natural strength! Is it any wonder that the Church, taking the same view as St. Paul did, has ever held and taught that the ministerial office thus conferred by supernatural power is no mere human function to be taken up or laid down at man’s pleasure, but is a life-long office to be discharged at the holder’s peril, -a savour of life unto life for the worthy recipient, a savour of death unto death for the unworthy and the careless.

In connection with this statement made by St. Paul concerning the source of the ministry we find a title given to the Ephesian presbyters round which much controversy has centred. St. Paul says, "Take heed unto the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you Bishops." I do not, however, propose to spend much time over this topic, as all parties are now agreed that in the New Testament the term presbyter and bishop are interchangeable and applied to the same persons. The question to be decided is not about a name, but an office, whether, in fact, any persons succeeded in apostolic times to the office of rule and government exercised by St. Paul and the rest of the apostles, as Well as by Timothy, Titus, and the other delegates of the Apostle, and whether the term bishop, as used in the second century, was applied to such successors of the apostles. This, however, is not a question which comes directly within the purview of an expositor of the Acts of the Apostles, as the appointment of Timothy and Titus to manage the affairs of the Church in Ephesus and in Crete lies beyond the period covered by the text of the Acts, and properly belongs to the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. St. Paul’s words in this connection have, however, an important bearing on fundamental doctrinal questions connected with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks of the presbyters as called "to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." These words are very strong, so strong indeed that various readings have been put forward to mitigate their force. Some have read "Lord" instead of "God," others have substituted Christ for it; but the Revised Version, following the text of Westcott and Hort, have accepted the strongest form of the verse on purely critical ground, and translates it as "the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." This passage, then, is decisive as to the Christological views of St. Luke and the Pauline circle generally. They believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that they hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God, an expression which some fifty years afterwards we find in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, where St. Ignatius speaks of them as "kindled into living fire by the blood of God," and a hundred years later still, in Tertullian, "Ad Uxor.," 2:3. This passage has been used in scientific theology as the basis of a principle or theory called the "Communicatio Idiomatum," a theory which finds an illustration in two other notable passages of Scripture, John 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the former passage our Lord says of Himself, "No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven," where the Son of man is spoken of as in heaven as well as upon earth at the same time, though the Son of man, according to His humanity, could only be in one place at a time. In the second passage St. Paul says, "Which none of the rulers of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory," where crucifixion is attributed to the Lord of Glory, a title derived from His Divine nature. Now the term "Communicatio Idiomature," or "transference of peculiar properties," is given to this usage because in all these texts the properties of the nature pertaining either to God or to man are spoken of as if they belonged to the other; or, to put it far better in the stately language of Hooker, 5, 53., where he speaks of "those cross and circulatory speeches wherein there are attributed to God such things as belong to manhood, and to man such as properly concern the deity of Jesus Christ, the cause whereof is the association of natures in one subject. A kind of mutual commutation there is, whereby those concrete names, God and man, when we speak of Christ, do take interchangeably one another’s room, so that for truth of speech it skilleth not whether we say that the Son of God hath created the world and the Son of man by His death hath saved it, or else that the Son of man did create and the Son of God did die to save the world." This is a subject of profound speculative and doctrinal interest, not only in connection with the apostolic view of our Lord’s Person, but also in reference to the whole round of methodised and scientific theology. We cannot, however, afford further space for this subject. We must be content to have pointed it out as an interesting topic of inquiry, and, merely referring the reader to Hooker and to Liddon’s Bampton Lectures (Lect. 5.) for more information, must hurry on to a conclusion. St. Paul terminates this part of his discourse with expressing his belief in the rapid development of false doctrines and false guides as soon as his repressive influence shall have been removed; a belief which the devout student of the New Testament will find to have been realised when 1 Timothy 1:20, in 2 Timothy 1:15, and 2 Timothy 2:17-18 he finds the Apostle warning the youthful Bishop of Ephesus against Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had turned all Asia away from St. Paul, and against Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who had imbibed the Gnostic error concerning matter, which had already led the Corinthians to deny the future character of the Resurrection. St. Paul then terminates his discourse with a solemn commendation of the Ephesian elders to that Divine grace which is as necessary for an apostle as for the humblest Christian. He exhorts them to self-sacrifice and self-denial, reminding them of his own example, having supported himself and his companions by his labour as a tentmaker at Ephesus, and above all of the words of the Lord Jesus, which they apparently knew from some source which has not come down to us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When the Apostle had thus terminated his address, which doubtless was a very lengthened one, he knelt down, probably on the shore, as we shall find him kneeling in the next chapter [Acts 21:5-6] on the shore at Tyre. He then commended them in solemn prayer to God, and they all parted in deep sorrow on account of the final separation which St. Paul’s words indicated as imminent; for though the primitive Christians believed in the reality of the next life with an intensity of faith of which we have no conception, and longed for its peace and rest, yet they gave free scope to those natural affections which bind men one to another according to the flesh and were sanctified by the Master Himself when He wept by the grave of Lazarus. Christianity is not a religion of stoical apathy, but of sanctified human affections.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 20:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/acts-20.html.

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Friday, December 6th, 2019
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